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Health Matters: Warning Signs in the Workplace

How to spot coworkers in distress


With the economy in a tailspin, retirement savings disappearing, and layoffs a constant threat, it’s no surprise that today’s workers are feeling more stressed than ever.

That anxiety was apparent even before the United States was hit with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In a 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association, nearly half of those polled reported that their stress levels had increased over the previous year, and many don’t know how to cope.

The Boston University Faculty and Staff Assistance Office (FSAO) is trained to help employees who are in distress.

“At the first sign of distress, faculty and staff can come and talk to us about what is troubling them,” says Bonnie Teitleman, director of FSAO, a voluntary counseling and referral service for employees and their families. “We have the training and tools to help.” The services are confidential and free.

It is also important for faculty and staff to intervene early if they see a problem with a coworker. “It could save someone’s life,” Teitleman says.

She says that employees should trust their instincts if they sense something is seriously wrong with a friend or coworker. Some of the signs that a colleague is in distress include changes in personal hygiene, work performance, or social behavior. People in distress may make suicidal statements, or because they can no longer contain their anxiety, may frequently talk about their problems. They may become isolated or withdrawn or increasingly irritable, angry, or enraged.

“If people don’t want to make an appointment, they can call just to talk,” says Thierry Guedj (GRS’01), associate director of FSAO. “Sometimes people will worry about an employee, but no one will call us. They sit with problems for a long time.”

Other resources for BU faculty and staff include Human Resources, which can help with office issues and coworker conflicts; the Office of Family Resources; the Danielsen Institute, a mental health clinic with a spiritual focus; and the Housing Office, which can help find a home or apartment.

“To help their friends, people should know where to get help,” says Guedj. “FSAO is available, we have all of the resources, and we really want to help people.”

The Boston University Faculty and Staff Assistance Office has offices on the Charles River and the Medical Campuses and can be reached by phone at 617-353-5381 or by e-mail at fsao@bu.edu. Emergencies should be directed to the BU Police Department, at 617-353-2121 on the Charles River Campus or 617-414-4444 on the Medical Campus. Never leave an urgent message on an answering machine.

Students who need help can also contact Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services.

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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