Career Corner: Empathy, Why We Need It

Lending a figurative hand can help struggling coworkers. – Courtesy photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“He’s just not paying attention in meetings!” “She’s just not the same person right now.” “It’s like he doesn’t care anymore about his work!” “She missed her deadline.” These are all things people are saying about their colleagues right now.

I get it. You’re frustrated at work. Not everyone is carrying their weight in the same reliable way as they were before March of 2020. But, this is the thing, there is more going on behind that work from home computer screen than you know. The pandemic is not impacting everyone equally. It’s just not. And it is very likely that your coworkers will not feel comfortable to tell you just what’s going on in their personal lives.

For example, you may have one coworker who is trying to homeschool their children while maintaining their job. Another may be in poor health themselves, and they may not be able to venture outside for the things they need. Some people are dealing with aging parents who are homebound. Other colleagues may have family members who are dealing with terminal illness, while this is all going on. Some people have lost family members or friends and have been unable to grieve in the normal way. Single people have often been completely removed from other human beings for months, longing for real connection. And, some people have someone in their house who has COVID.

We tend to believe that hard work is the answer to everything. If you want to make your way to the top, you’ve got to climb. The best person should win. It’s a little like Darwin. But, really, we are facing a global pandemic. It’s worse than anything we’ve likely ever experienced in our lifetime and on a massive, massive scale that is extending on for months.

People are struggling. They have good days. They have bad days. And, they have some very bad days. It doesn’t make the person less worthy of the job they had in February. And, I get it. We have to make money in order for businesses to stay in business.

This situation reminds me of growing up in Oklahoma. We had tornadoes; really big, destructive tornadoes. Sometimes, one would come through and tear up entire neighborhoods. People would be without homes, without water, and without power for days. The only way they survived was this: together. They pulled together and together, they all made it out.

That’s what we have to do here. I know, it’s frustrating. It feels unfair when you have to do a little more work than normal. It’s upsetting when a coworker is late on something they promised you. It’s annoying when someone takes a day off for their mental health out of the blue.

But this is the reality we’re living in. To make it out, we need to do it together and we need to do it with empathy for one another.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

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