You don’t need to do it all – you just need to do one thing. RU OK?
It was 7am when Matthew got into the office. He had recently begun coming in early to enjoy the peace and quiet that an empty office floor provided. Nobody was ever about this early and he could let his thoughts about home simmer down before he enters a busy day at work. That morning, he had left this morning with a slam of the front door, unsure how much longer he can deal with the conflict. His wife and him have been married for 5 years and they had their first baby on the way. They were both stressed trying to plan for the baby’s arrival, but in the process, both of them have become agitated and isolated from one another.
Matthew sits there as his thoughts ponder the morning, tapping his pen on the desk. He sighs, and takes a deep breath in. As he breathes out, he lowers his forehead into his hands and closes his eyes to allow himself to let the thoughts go. He must have been lost in thought as he feels a hand placed on his shoulder.
“Are you okay mate?”
Jason has worked with Matthew for a few years, they both joined the company at the same time in fairly similar roles. Jason respected Matthew a lot – but he was always being challenged by him, and Jason always felt that Matthew was one step ahead. He tried to not let it get to him, but it was easy for the self-doubt to creep in most days when trying to keep up with what Matthew was coming up with next.
Recently, Jason had begun to notice that Matthew was getting in earlier than normal – the emails would begin as early as 6am or 7am, and Jason thought that maybe him getting in earlier was helping him get ahead. Early mornings never worked well for Jason though as his anxiety was the worst when he woke up, but he wanted to try and reach the same sales as Matthew this year, for the first time since they worked together.
As he entered the office quarter past 7am, he felt sunken inside, his heart was pounding faster than normal, and he felt himself trembling a little. Nothing particularly had happened that morning or that week even, but it was just the adrenaline of the anxiety that he always felt. Every day was a different day, and today he knew it was just worse as he got into the office early.
As he walks into what appears an empty floor, he can see Matthew from afar with his head in his hands, and he wonders how much of a deep thought he must be in about the sales pitch he is going to do today. As he walks up to him, he notices Matthew’s computer isn’t even on. Odd, Jason thought. As he approached a little closer, he noticed the sunken shoulders, the collapsed body, and he realises something else. Jason swallows down his own feelings and places a hand on Matthew’s shoulder.
Matthew looks at him, half shocked, half exhausted, consciously rejigging his body, sitting up in his seat, and opens his mouth to respond…
“Totally fine, mate…. So, do you want to get started early on this sales pitch today then?”
Jason shrugs it off and says sure. As the morning moves on, they work between the two of them how they’ll present to the client today. Jason’s stomach ache is getting worse and he can feel his anxiety getting on top of him worse than normal today. They both move into a meeting room to practice their delivery as their manager, Jessica, walks past the glass wall and pokes her head inside. She could see Matthew standing up delivering his usual story, while Jason sat on the chair fidgeting on the papers in front him. Matthew beams a big smile, and Jason slightly jumps at Jessica’s voice.
Matthew look sat his watch, and smoothly reminds himself and Jason that they all need to leave soon to get to the client on time. Jessica notices as they leave the room, Jason looks a little bit more frazzled than usual – his tie isn’t done properly, he seems distracted and he doesn’t look himself. Jessica can’t place her finger on it, but as Matthew bounces out of the meeting room, Jessica quickly taps Jason on the shoulder as he was leaving the room…
“How are you going? Are you sure you’re all good for today?”
As Jason hears the words, he wants to be honest, he wants to tell Jessica that maybe he should skip this one out, but his anxiety is also the reason he must achieve so much. He doesn’t want to let it decide what he should and shouldn’t do, and although today is a bad day, he doesn’t want Jessica to think he is weak or can’t do his job. His mind is clocking his thoughts a thousand miles an hour, and although he feels as though the silence was a while, he knows it has only been a second, and he responds…
“No, I am fine, just looking forward to delivering this pitch.”
As the three of them get into the cab, Jessica cannot help but notice that the two of them seem off their game. Matthew is staring out the window and hasn’t spoken the whole car ride since he got a personal phone call earlier on his phone, and Jason has been fidgeting with whatever has been in his hands all morning. Jessica knows what it feels like to be afraid in speaking up. She had a rough few years ago when she went through a divorce and she was struggling to focus at work. She knows how hard it was to speak up as well, and especially to your manager.
Jessica sits in the middle of the two in the backseat in the cab, pondering about the years ago that she managed to get through her own dilemmas. In that moment, she notices Matthew checking his phone again, and Jason closing his eyes to take a deep breath.
In that moment, she realises what she might be able to do.
“Hey guys, this is a long car ride, so I want to tell you a story from a few years back, when I wasn’t doing great, but thought it was a story we might all need to hear right now…”
Do you remember that time you noticed a colleague wasn’t themselves and you were too afraid to ask if they were OK?
Or the time that you saw another a manager speak to a colleague abruptly or rudely and you were too nervous to check in with your colleague, or follow up with the manager to see if something might be going on for them?
Do you remember that time you saw a colleague rush to the bathroom and later they appeared with red eyes? Did you approach them afterwards, check in and offer some support?
Each and every day, there are moments happening across all of our workplaces where things happen. Changes are noticed. People are experiencing things, but aren’t speaking up. Colleagues are noticing, but not responding. Managers are figuring it out, but remaining silent. Moments are happening all the time, where maybe someone isn’t doing 100%, or someone just aren’t feeling themselves because, you know what, life happens.
We focus so much on asking this big, scary question R U OK, but we forget that there are so many other ways to ask someone R U OK without using those 3 actual words. Tell a story, share a moment, connect over coffee, just be in the room being a fellow human who knows what it is like to not have a good day, or a good month, or even a good year.
Being not OK is part of the human experience – and sometimes things are harder for each and every one of us, so don’t stay quiet, speak up, share stories, say yes to coffee, call a helpline, be open to your GP, connect with your colleagues, call a friend, speak to your partner.
You don’t have to do it all – you just need to start with one.
If you need to talk to someone
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline: 13 11 14