The art of being close when everyone is working from home: 5 tips on what to do if you suspect someone is struggling

Payroll and HR | 01.03.2021

by Ingrid Petterson

We have now been through the coldest and darkest season, where we can all feel that we have been more separated from colleagues, friends and acquaintances than ever before. Perhaps you feel uncertain about the future. Even though the corona vaccine is getting closer as the days go by, our “normal situation” might still be very far away. How can you as a leader, colleague and fellow human being contribute in a time with so many limitations?

In connection with the pandemic, many studies are being carried out on the effect of closure and insecurity. The University of Oslo was out early with such a study and could already in the spring report on an increased degree of signs of depression and anxiety. As many as 30.8 percent of the participants stated that they had symptoms of depression. (SOURCE: This is 3 times more than usual which then reports sadness, depression and problems with sleep.

The study also measures how lonely people felt when working from home. Here it was reported that younger people, women and the unemployed were more lonely than other groups. The same applied to those without children, low education and with a history of mental illness.

“Loneliness is not a mental illness in itself, but it can potentially build up to it” (Sverre Urnes Johnson, Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Oslo).


Loneliness is the companion of autonomy

As human beings we are social beings, some more than others, at the same time as we prefer to control our own lives. When we miss the opportunity to be with others, we get the feeling of loneliness, isolation and it can in the long run give stress and lack of judgment of a professional nature.

In normal conditions with virtual work, one can spice up with physical hit points. Whether you meet colleagues for Monday meetings or Friday games, it creates togetherness, dialogue, fun, in short social "glue". We do not know how the situation is now, but the feeling of loneliness can perhaps be dampened by informal talking over Teams or the phone where you don’t sit on needles to talk about work tasks, but consciously let the talk flow about everything and nothing.

See our Norwegian webinar on mental health


Putting mental health on the agenda in the workplace

I ask the employer pilots Odd Ivar Abusland and Leif Eggen at NAV Arbeidslivssenter Trøndelag for tips on good measures to prevent mental illness. As counselors for employers, they are often out in companies to advise on how best to deal with and prevent mental illness.

"Mental health is something we all have on an equal footing with physical health. Half of us will experience that mental problems make it difficult to cope with the demands we face at work. There is more and more talk about mental health in various arenas in society. ours, and there has been much greater openness about mental health in recent years. Nevertheless, this is often not a topic we talk about at work. Putting mental health on the agenda in one's own workplace is important. It contributes to increased knowledge, greater security and more openness about a topic that affects many. It is important to help generalize and normalize. " (Odd Ivar Abusland)

Life offers both ups and downs, where we handle these differently based on different assumptions. We have different vulnerabilities and different trigger points for what affects us positively or negatively. Our ability to master challenges is not static, but is affected by several factors, such as life stages, social network, financial situation and previous experiences.

“Mental health challenges are not necessarily visible, much goes on "inside". Therefore, we actually have to ask in order to know how others feel. We must dare to talk about it.” says Abusland.

Finding the right questions is not always easy. It's definitely not easy to see if someone is lonely when what we see of them are mostly calendar entries, and the occasional work-related email. So how can we best proceed if we think someone around us is struggling?


"How are you doing?"

Do you have an employee who does not deliver as he usually does? A colleague who is quieter than usual? Not everyone is equally open about the fact that things can be difficult. As a manager with personnel responsibilities, as a colleague or friend, it can sometimes be difficult to approach someone who you think is struggling. Are there any ways we can see if someone is struggling, if they do not tell?

Trond Løkling, my former colleague and now an organizational psychologist at the Center for Management, has the following advice: Look at the behavior. It can give indications that someone is struggling or has a need that needs to be met. Since no one lives in a vacuum, it is also important to see if stress has built up over time. The sum of stress factors is not always as easy to see, while the acute stress is both easier to see and recognize.

Not everyone has a large network around them, sometimes it is you who comes into contact with the person through work. Maybe the only contact through a day. Sometimes you have nothing more to do than your gut feeling, but still it can start the initiative that shows that you care, says Løkling. There is a difference between caring and not caring about others.

“As a leader, you will fail if you don’t also have the informal and ongoing contact. Then you will also increase the risk that you involuntarily end up as a satellite in relation to your own group. Having a secure relationship helps you in dialogue, but is not a prerequisite for success with it. Nevertheless, the preparation is the basis for being able to have a good dialogue when it comes to."

“Then it is important to remember that if someone is struggling, it is often not easy to ask for help. Put the phrase "take care of yourself" aside and try to create an arena (culture) where it is allowed to make mistakes, then it is also easier to ask for help. " (Trond Løkling)

Underperformance is a signal, which you often do not realize yourself.

Specifically, a sincere question about how it goes can be what it takes. Feel free to express what the concern is: I do not think you are yourself. Be curious. Do not ask out of duty, but be genuine. Maybe it's not to you he or she opens up, but to the next person who asks. In short, if you are in a position and have a good relationship, you can be the one who gets the answer. Regardless of role. You can just as easily be a colleague, neighbor or leader, it's about being a fellow human being.

Løkling encourages you to focus on asking for well-being, instead of tasks. As well as being open about that it's okay that things are going badly. It is ultimately about caring for the team and accepting that we can all be vulnerable at times.


5 tips on what you can do if you suspect that someone is struggling?

1. Stop by as soon as possible, or pick up the phone and ask how things are going. It is not certain that you will get an answer this time, but if the relationship is good, there is a greater chance. Opening up that things are heavy can sit deep inside, perhaps the person being asked reacts with irritation. But in the long run, the person will probably appreciate that you asked.

2. Arrange meeting points. Although the doorstep may feel extra high when life goes awry, it is a good idea to try to bring your colleague or neighbor on a trip or a cup of coffee. Even a digital coffee cup is better than nothing, if there is room to talk about non-work-related topics.

3. Be present. Do not ask to tick it off the list. Ask if you are genuinely interested. And listen to the answer.

4. It is allowed to make demands. Make achievable demands, it is good to feel a sense of mastery.

5. Take care of yourself. Even fellow human beings need refills. You do not have to act as a therapist, let professionals take that job. If in doubt, ask for help.


Ask more

"Ask more!", Said the Norwegian Directorate of Health in connection with World Mental Health Day. They encourage us to show interest and attention to those around us. After that time, the infection picture has changed further, and more have been sent back to home offices, or are still sitting there. Missed it this time? Try again!

Do you want to learn more? Spend 30 minutes to see our Norwegian webinar on mental health


Azets can assist

If you want to focus on mental health in the work environment or advice for dealing with mental illness among employees, contact our advisors in HR Advisory at

post author

About Ingrid Petterson

Ingrid has her field of study from psychology and health sciences and has experience from both the private and public sector, most recently in Coperio Bedriftshelse. She has always worked with HR, and has her strengths in systematic HSE, sick leave, organizational development and working environment. Ingrid started in the summer of 2020 as a Senior Advisor in HR Advisory, where she works to deliver faster added value to our customers through innovative HR and HSE.