Advice from Spill's therapists
Support their wellbeing but create a planReview what business areas need attentionSix pieces of adviceRelated resources
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Supporting a colleague while protecting personal mental health

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees navigating workplace relationships.

I'm concerned about my co-founder, who isn't very happy at the moment and is taking some extended time off. Their areas of the business are being neglected, which is causing me increasing stress. How can I be there for them but not push my own mental health over the edge?

Our first therapist suggests...

Support their wellbeing but create a plan

You need to find a way of prioritising your own needs whilst being conscious of theirs. Saying “Yes” to your co-founder mustn’t and doesn’t need to mean saying “No” to yourself.

Think about having a conversation with them in which you acknowledge and support their need to put their own wellbeing first, but ask that you both create a plan together that will address work concerns and ensure everything is dealt with while they are away.

Part of the way in which we can ensure our sustainable support for someone we care about is through determining and delivering whatever it is we need in order to stay in good emotional shape ourselves. Like the safety announcement on an aircraft, you need to secure your own life vest before helping someone else with theirs.

If your co-founder is struggling and is unlikely to be thinking clearly about work, try creating a proposal that you feel will satisfy the concerns that you currently have. If you are able to position it as a way that the business can run whilst your co-founder takes a well-needed break and that you will maintain your own peace of mind in the process, it’s hard to see how they would be anything other than grateful.

Finally, bear in mind that you cannot and should not take responsibility for your co-founder's mental health. It is something you care about but not something you can resolve, they have to do that.

If you are finding yourself pulled down by worrying about them, suggest that they get some professional help. If they are already doing so and you still can’t let go of your concerns, you might benefit from talking to a therapist yourself. Whatever you do, maintain your own boundary because falling into a hole with them won’t help anyone.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Review what business areas need attention

Sounds like you both have a lot going on at the moment. I hear that you want to be there for your co-founder, and you worry about their health, and that you also have to consider the needs of the business and your own health. That’s a lot to take on.

I’m assuming you are also a co-founder, so you both have decision making responsibilities about what happens? It sounds like it can’t continue as it is so something needs to change (possibly just for the short-term). It is of course important to honour someone’s health so I’m sure you are putting in place a plan that allows the co-founder to take some extended time off. This may mean reducing expectations on the company for a while, or hiring in/promoting another person to help whilst the co-founder is off. It will have some sort of impact on the business so, in your discussions together, it is about what’s important to you both and how best to manage this time alongside the business goals. It would be unrealistic to think that business can continue running in the same way with a major player missing so I can understand that areas will be neglected. The decision is whether they run on a lower output for a while or whether you get an interim manager to run them.

You can’t be everywhere and do everything as your own health will suffer and, when we’re at full capacity, things don’t get done well either so the business will suffer, too. It sounds like time to review what business areas need attention; what can keep running, what may need to be dialled down or paused, or what other resources may be needed to maintain current load.

You can be there for your co-founder by honouring what they need (some time off), however, this decision is not without impact, so they will also need to honour any decisions made (if not made together) in order for you too to be well and the business to be healthy.  

Your co-founder can use this time off to heal and recover and, hopefully, return more energised and able to continue. How they do this is up to them; they are the experts on themselves and what they need. Check-in with your co-founder but be mindful that you have a lot going on so don’t try to be their “rescuer” (this is not your responsibility); be their cheerleader, their friend. Let them know you are there. A chat with a therapist at this time, for both of you, may be helpful. There are a lot of spinning plates going on; a good leader knows when to put certain plates down before they fall and smash.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Six pieces of advice

Thanks for your question on self-care while your business partner takes time off. Parts of the business are being neglected which means you are more stretched. It’s also challenging supporting your colleague.

The following are ideas that may help:

  • Make relaxation a regular part of your schedule as I would imagine you are experiencing anxiety. Anxiety may result in symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headaches, racing thoughts and difficulties breathing. It can lead to avoidance behaviours, becoming too controlling or overly compliant. We may also experience anger and low mood alongside anxiety. Relaxation strategies counter anxiety, helping the body feel safe again. Try things like massage, progressive muscle relaxation, exercise, listening to calming music, meditation, having a hot bath...
  • It seems wise that your business partner does take time off if they are currently unable to meet their responsibilities and adding pressure for you with their presence. Encourage them to take time without feeling guilty but make agreements about the contact you will have and how you will use that contact.
  • Create a plan for your business partner’s time off. If you create a plan together, you can limit problems caused by their absence. Consider problems that are likely to come up while your business partner is away and how these should be handled. How will you manage any emergencies and worst-case scenarios?
  • Consider who you can delegate tasks to. Who are your potential resources in the workplace? The current situation could create opportunities in your business for growth and development which may take the pressure off you and your business partner in the short and long term.
  • Consider what can wait. Which responsibilities are urgent and non-urgent? Ensure you are not busying yourself with tasks that do not require your efforts. It’s easy to do the latter when we are feeling anxious.
  • Update your staff about the changes and be transparent about plans. Help your staff to make any plans they need to in light of your business partner’s absence.
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