My friend has a high stress job working at a local nonprofit where she directs the after-school program. There is never enough time to get everything done. Each week brings a new challenge as she juggles programs and negotiates and solves issues with students, families, staff and school leaders.  I visited her recently and she shared how she copes when things get overwhelming.

And that’s when I learned about the “shoulder pillow.”

It’s a practice they use at their organization to get and give support to one another. They ask permission to rest their  head on  another’s shoulder and take just a minute of respite. It’s a pillow of comfort and safety. To know that someone is there and has your back.  Without sharing many words, it means “I’m here for you…don’t worry.”

Granted the “shoulder pillow” is not for everyone.  It may be awkward for some as it involves personal space.  And to be honest, it must be shared with someone you trust. Yet, more than the physical act, it represents to me how important it is to have a safe and empathetic person in the organization to reach out to, when things get “crazy.”  When the going gets tough.

I love the concept.

We all need to know that despite all our anxiety and stress, we are not alone.  We can reach out for support without questions.  

And it can be with anyone at the workplace, at any level, where the connection and relationship allows for support. In Italian, we call this ‘simpatico’  meaning a person who is aligned in compassion and spirit.

Whether symbolically or literally, we all need someone to share a “shoulder pillow" at work.

 Let’s not be strangers to one another.

We are in this together.

Here are a few other ideas to give support to one another.

1. Practice an open-door or cube policy and be accessible, which hopefully is often.

2. Find a token memento to give to colleagues when they seem stressed. I like to give out dark chocolate kisses when someone seems down.  

3. Go for a walk together.  

4. Share stories with one another. It’s a great connector and can break silence and tension.

5. Find time to get to know each other personally.  It’s the beginning of relationships that may last a lifetime.