R U OK? Here’s some helpful tips on how to have the conversation with a work colleague

What is RUOK? Day

R U OK? Day is an annual day, held this year on 12th September 2019, which is dedicated to remind people to ask family, friends and colleagues the question, “R U OK?

R U OK is about showing care and connecting, it’s about showing a genuine interest in someone’s wellbeing and letting them know they’re not alone. Connecting regularly and meaningfully is one small thing everyone can do to make a difference; it can even save lives.

Why you  should ask a work colleague that is going through a hard time at work, R U OK?

One in five (20%)[1] Australians will experience a mental illness in any given year, mental health is a conversation that must be had.

One in five Australian employees report that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months.

It is sometimes difficult to know how to respond to someone who may be going through a difficult time or experiencing mental health problems. You’re not expected to solve whatever might be going on but asking the question and talking with them is a very important first step towards exploring if they need support and how you might be able to support them.

Four steps to help you have the conversation with a work colleague:

1)     Identify your concerns and plan a meeting

  • Identify a suitable place to meet with the work colleague, one that is quiet, private and non-threatening.
  • Find out about mental health issues and about support services available at your organisation to assist work colleagues. E.g. Employee Assistance Program, Human Resources, Beyondblue, Blackdog or other wellbeing services.
  • Plan how you will approach the conversation. Let the work colleague know that you are concerned about them and why. Say that you have noticed some changes in their behaviour. It is not your role to diagnose or provide counselling, but you can spend time discussing their experience.

2)     Discuss and Assess – Having the conversation

  • Let the work colleague know that you are concerned about them and why. List examples of behaviours you have observed, avoid labels or diagnosis when having the conversation. E.g. ‘I have noticed you have been a bit down recently. Is everything okay?’
  • Listen carefully and use appropriate body language. Make the person feel comfortable. To show you are listening, try to maintain eye contact and sit in a relaxed position.
  • Allow the work colleague the space to share as much or as little as they want. Ask open-ended questions to help you understand what they are going through, but tell them that they don’t have to answer any questions that make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Ask them if they have discussed their situation with others and if they do or don’t want you to mention it to anyone else. Ask them how they would like you to help them.

3) Collaborate to Develop Solutions

  • Talk openly about mental health issues and discuss resources available to them through work, or alternatively, external forms of support such as a GP, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or other wellbeing services. Assist them to access this support if required.
  • Respect and accept their decision if they do not wish to discuss the matter. However, inform them that you are available to talk and support them should they change their mind.
  • Ask the work colleague for proposals to resolve the issues. It can be helpful to ask “ What would make things easier for you and we can discuss together.”

4) Follow up

  • It is important that you follow up with the Work colleague to review any actions and ensure there is sufficient support in place. This is integral to a successful and positive outcome.

What are the Do’s and Don’ts when having the conversation?

When having a conversation with a work colleague who shows signs of a mental health issue, there are a number of Do’s and Don’ts, including:


  • Take the time to discuss their experiences
  • Indicate that you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour
  • Suggest they might see their doctor or access support
  • Be open about mental health and assist them to access information
  • Refer to resources available at your organisation, such as Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other services like Beyondblue, Blackdog

Do not:

  • Pressure them to ‘snap out of it’, ‘get their act together’ or ‘cheer up’
  • Ignore the issue or avoid them
  • Tell them they just need to stay busy or get out more
  • Assume the problem will just go away 

It is important to remember that speaking openly about mental health in the workplace will reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking behaviour.

Use the support of HR, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or other wellbeing services.

How we can support you?

To support workplaces, we’ve developed a suite of high impact mental health and wellbeing videos and tip sheets.


For more information on how AP Psychology & Consulting Services can partner with you to establish leading edge human wellbeing solutions for your business please contact us on 1300 335 336 or email info@psychology-consulting.com.

To keep up to date with our latest news or upcoming workshops follow us on LinkedIn at AP Psychology & Consulting Services.


[1] www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/Factsandfiguresaboutmentalhealthandmooddisorders.pdf


44 Garden St South Yarra, Victoria 3141

TEL: 1300 335 336

EMAIL: info@psychology-consulting.com ABN: 12 698 548 016