Advice column: my stressed-out colleague is struggling to cope with a heavy workload

Dear Ash

I am becoming increasingly worried about a colleague in the department and her erratic mood swings. She is normally quite a reserved and polite person, but ever since our workload recently intensified with the addition of a new project, I have noticed her behaviour has changed for the worse. She tends to look dishevelled and tired, which is understandable, but then she will at times begin talking rapidly about random events and then laugh incessantly at things which are not even funny. She also snapped at me recently when I asked her whether she had one of the project files. I am feeling stressed at the moment too, but I feel that perhaps my colleague is not coping at all and I’m not sure how to deal with this as she seems to be spiralling out of control.

Ash replies

Stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Different personalities cope with stress in different ways. This is evident in the different coping mechanisms exhibited by you and your colleague.
However, the change in behaviour being exhibited by your colleague is certainly concerning.

Sometimes people can react oddly in response to a lack of sleep combined with intense stress, and this could manifest itself in the actions you have described.

It may help your colleague to know that you are also under immense pressure – this may help her to open up to you and perhaps seek help or at least some time out. You might want to suggest that even taking a half day one morning to allow her to catch up on some sleep may help.

Going out to lunch together for even half an hour away from your desks may also help to relieve some of the tension.

The worst thing your colleague can do is to ignore the situation, as in her current state, she is more likely to make mistakes, which will only add to her stress levels.

Being supportive is the best thing you can offer at this stage, but also take heed from your colleague’s situation as a warning to you about what not to do.

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.
Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or KatieWood@lawscot.org.uk
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