When You Think a Colleague is in Trouble

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

An advisor at our practice has started coming in at 10 or 10:30 in the morning. He doesn’t shave as often as he used to, and he seems distant and preoccupied. I brought this up to the leader of our firm who made it clear that it was none of my business. I don’t want to pry into anyone’s life, but I am concerned about this person. He was one of our best performers and now he seems, well, lost. Is there an appropriate way to broach what’s going on with him?


Dear H.R.,

Why are you interested in what’s going on with this colleague? Do you believe yourself to be in a position to fix something for him? What’s driving your concern?

I ask because it also strikes me as intrusive. Your inquiry doesn’t clarify how close you are to this advisor, but I’m assuming if you haven’t talked to him yet, and he hasn’t shared anything with you, that you do not have a close relationship. In addition, your boss—the leader of your firm – has been strong in his response to say it’s in your best interest to stay away.

I can understand taking a caring and concerned attitude, but I’ve learned over the years that when we intervene in someone’s personal life without really knowing what’s happening and why, we can actually do more damage than good. He could be dealing with a diagnosis, a family crisis, depression or a tragedy that you know nothing about. Approaching him as if you could help might actually be more self-serving than helpful.

Forgive me for saying this, but we often want to help another person because it makes us feel good and not because it actually helps the person. That’s not the case when we make an introduction for a colleague, write a recommendation for someone or provide insights or information that a colleague may need, of course. I’m talking about when we intervene in a more personal manner – asking someone to share something they may not be comfortable sharing and then giving our advice.

In a case like this, the best thing you can do is to treat this person as you have always treated him. If he is dropping things, not responding to clients or doing something that you perceive as detrimental to the business, mention these facts to your firm leader. This could negatively impact the business, and if you see these things, it’s only right to raise them.

But, if this person continues to manage his aspect of the business well, it really shouldn’t be of your concern. You can care – but do so from afar.