Skip to main content

When to ask “are you ok?”

Earlier this week, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, released an article in the New York Times. Her heart-breaking account of having a miscarriage has struck a chord with so many people across the world.

One of the main things she has pointed out is that we forget to ask people if they are ok.

Looking at the world of work, we tend to see it as there being an invisible line where you leave your personal issues outside. However, in real life, it’s not that simple. You don’t have a locker at the front door of your workplace, where you can unload part of who you are and part of your life. You come as a package deal.

“Are you ok?” is a really small question but it can have a really big answer.

So, when can you ask an employee or colleague “are you ok?”?

Whenever you notice a change in them from what is their “normal”. This relies on you actually knowing your team, so you can spot changes in their behaviour. Getting to know your team is really important. But don’t ever be afraid to ask someone if they are ok. It shows you care and sometimes, that’s exactly what a person needs.

Not everyone likes to be open about their personal life in work. So, don’t ever force someone to talk to you. If they say they are ok, but their behaviour indicates they aren’t, then just check in on them in a few days’ time and make sure they know you’re there if they ever do want to talk.

What if they say “no”?

This is the thing that scares us the most – someone saying they aren’t ok. Mainly because WE feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. But there’s a really simple way to deal with this answer – ask them if they’d like to talk about it.

Go somewhere private so that you won’t get interrupted and they can feel more relaxed. Listen to them without judging or without trying to formulate a reply. That’s the really important part. As human beings we tend to half listen to people because we’re too busy thinking about what we want to say back to them. Don’t do this. You only need to listen at this point. You’re not their counsellor and you’re not there to fix things for them. You’re there to listen. Really listen.

How to deal with someone who isn’t ok

Don’t judge

Everyone is different.

Think of it like this – everyone is going through life with a plate in their hands. Some people have a tea plate, others have a large dinner plate. Some people’s plates are sturdy and can hold lots, others have plates that are made of paper and will buckle under any weight. When you look at things like this, it can help you to stop yourself from thinking “if I can deal with it, why can’t they?”

Acknowledge that they are finding things difficult and empathise with them.


If there are things they can do, then encourage them towards the appropriate resources or people who can help. Encourage them to keep talking to you about things.

If you have an Employee Assistance Programme or a Mental Health First Aider, encourage them to speak to these people too. Employee Assistance Programmes are run by people who are trained to help in a crisis or even if someone is just finding things a bit tough right now.


If they need a bit of support in doing things, then be there for them. It could be something as simple as finding a telephone number for Citizens’ Advice or even just being there while they are on the phone.

Checking in

Check in on any employees who you have concerns about. Even the ones who said they were fine, but you know there’s something on their mind.

Overall, remember you are dealing with a person. That person has feelings, emotions, life experiences, values, and ideas. Being kind is something we can all do, and it takes no training or qualifications.

If you think your business needs some Mental Health Awareness training – why not have a look at what our friends at Ajuda can offer to your business.

Our MD, Emma, was a guest on a webinar this week discussing about perceived taboo subjects in HR (discussing miscarriages, menopause, toxic masculinity and other difficult subjects). You can catch the on demand recording here.

Need our help?

Let’s get talking!

Contact Us