Advice column: a colleague told me he was struggling; should I advise our boss?

Dear Ash,

I’ve been taken into confidence by one of my colleagues who seems on a real downer because of pressures of work and of his home life. He confirmed to me that he has been struggling to cope and dreads coming into work because of feeling inadequate. His wife recently gave birth to their child and sleep deprivation seems to be an issue. He has not been himself of late, as he normally is quite sociable but now comes into work late and leaves early; he also seems to be missing important work deadlines. My boss has noted the change in my colleague and recently commented that he is concerned about his lack of productivity and that he did not seem to be pulling his weight. I’m not sure whether I should say something to my boss in order to try to explain things, as I am concerned that if my colleague is criticised about his performance, this may result in him feeling even more downcast.

Ash replies:

You clearly are someone that your colleague feels he can trust and confide in, and that is really important. It is therefore not advisable for you to disclose your colleague’s issues to your boss, as this may inevitably cause your colleague to feel betrayed (no matter how good your intentions), and in any case it may not make much difference to how your boss feels about the situation. Indeed it may be that your boss already has an awareness of the potential issues, but nevertheless has little sympathy due to the overall pressures on the team.

It is more important for you to try to lend a sympathetic ear to your colleague and explain the importance of him getting some help before matters escalate. For example, suggest going for a walk at lunchtime or grabbing a coffee after work, perhaps with other colleagues in order to allow him to feel more part of the team again. Also suggest that he try to get some one-to-one help by speaking to his GP in the first instance; he will not be the first nor the last new parent to struggle at times with juggling parenthood with work commitments, and it is important that he is able to acknowledge this and to seek appropriate help.

You could also suggest that your colleague speak directly with your boss in order to confirm he is struggling at the moment and that he may need to take some annual leave in order to take some time out and feel recharged.

Trust is a precious thing and you clearly have the ability to enable others to put their trust in you; therefore, look to preserve this truly precious quality and take steps to help your colleague by continuing to be there.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and other legal professionals, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. 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 Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162, or by email:

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