Asking R U OK? At Work

In honour of R U OK? DAY CoWork Me me ran a workshop on having the “R U OK?” conversation at work, facilitated by our Wellbeing Associate, Daniella Silverstein.  

Having a mentally healthy workplace can play a key role in maintaining our mental wellbeing- after all, work takes up so much of our waking hours, and we see our colleagues more often than most of our friends!

There are a range of factors that can contribute to a mentally healthy workplace; in fact beyondblue’s ‘Headsup’ workplace mental health initiative has identified nine key attributes. One of these is mental health support; that means leaders and peers being responsive to others’ mental wellbeing.

One way to be responsive to others’ wellbeing is by having a conversation if we notice something might be amiss; today we workshopped how we can have those conversations.

Here’s a summary of our discussion, based around resources provided by R U OK on their website.

Why should I ask  R U OK?

Hearing from our General Manager, Rob Materia, about his experiences having an ‘R U OK?” conversation that made a difference, and also his personal story of receiving support during a difficult time, really hit home just how important these conversations can be.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes the last thing we feel like we can do is reach out and tell someone that we’re not doing well; this means taking the initiative to have a conversation is so important. At work, we’re in the privileged position of seeing our colleagues regularly, meaning we’re well-placed to notice small changes in their behaviour that might indicate an underlying concern

CoWork Me members workshopping ideas at the event

Who should I ask R U OK?

The good thing is there’s no hard and fast rule. There are no specific signs that someone might be struggling. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling.
But you might notice that a person is:

  • More tired than usual
  • Less social and talkative than usual
  • Or just acting a bit different to how they usually do.

    The take-away message is a change from the norm.

Where should I ask R U OK?

The best space is somewhere that you won’t be overheard by other colleagues, and the best time is when you’re both not in a rush. Some ideas are coffee shops, a quiet spot at after-work drinks, or when you’re having a regular catch-up.

In a workplace setting, it’s important that someone doesn’t feel like they’re being judged incompetent, or that their job security or future prospects are at risk. Some ideas discussed at the workshop could be to simply explain that they aren’t being judged, and that the point was to check in and make sure they’re ok.


From R U OK?. You don’t have to use the words “R U OK”.

How should I ask R U OK?

Sometimes a closed question like ‘R U OK?” can be confronting; giving a ‘yes’ answer might be too much for a person struggling to admit. Instead, introducing the topic with examples of the changes in their behaviour that you’ve noticed, and following up with “what’s been happening”, or “why do you think that is?” can make challenges easier to talk about.

What should I do if they say they’re not OK?

Listen without judgment

This is key to having a helpful conversation, rather than trying to spend time sharing our own experiences or trying to fix their problems.

Often times, compassion and validation is what someone really needs.

Rather than “just look on the bright side!”, saying,  “that must be really hard” can make someone feel like their emotions are valid, and that they are seen.
Be ok with silence. Oftentimes it can be hard to find the words to say, or to find the courage or composure to say them. Give them the space to gather their thoughts.

Seek professional help

If someone’s been struggling for more than two weeks or is acutely stressed, it’s best if they seek professional help. A GP visit is the best way to get the ball rolling, as they can provide a ‘mental health care plan’, which entitles Australians to a number of subsidised (or free) psychology sessions (depending on the psychology practice).
Lifeline can provide crisis support, whilst beyondblue provides support and resources for anxiety and depression (see links at the bottom of this article).

Check In

No matter how the conversation goes, it’s a good idea to check in at a later day with them. Seek them out a few days or a week later, and see how they’re doing. They might have made some progress or perhaps they would find it helpful to have another chat about what’s on their mind.
Checking in even if the person you’re concerned about said they’re OK when you first asked is also a good idea; if they didn’t feel ready to talk then, they may be able to talk about it now.

From the R U OK website. Mentally healthy workspaces encourage peer support and open dialogue.

Our talk from Rob also highlighted that sometimes we miss the signs that someone is struggling, so opening up a conversation about someone’s wellbeing doesn’t just have to be when you think something’s wrong. Asking ‘R U OK’ is always appreciated, and helps to contribute to a positive workspace all year round.


R U OK (prevention resources)
Lifeline (crisis support)  phone: 13 11 14
BeyondBlue (anxiety and depression support & resources)  phone: 1300 22 4636
Headsup (mentally healthy workspace resources)