How Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion Can Help Workplaces Survive the Pandemic

NEW YORK, NY / ACCESSWIRE / August 14, 2020 / We enter a crisis knowing only about 20 percent. The other 80 percent is discovery. With our current global crisis, there are questions only the virus can answer. However, we do embark with two hypotheses: (1) we need to change the game to win; (2) the business vaccine for the age of COVID is already here-it’s just not widely implemented.

If we draw a Venn diagram of areas that governments and industry have focused on, we quickly discover the overlapping curves are on the urgent matters of safety and the economy. This would be of no surprise to anyone. People are people. Carbon and water. We are hardwired to focus on the urgent, often at the expense of the important. However, a classic Venn diagram contains a visual depiction of three overlapping circles. How should managers populate this third cell?

While there have been increasing discussions about this pandemic’s mental health consequences, there has been far too little discussion of what can be done to mitigate these risks. Now is the time to move beyond simply “admiring the problem” of workforce wellness. Now is the time to move emotional wellness from the back burner to a burning platform. It’s good business and great management. A survey by Limeade finds that when employees feel their company authentically cares about them as individuals, they are nine times more likely to stay with the company, and 91% say they would recommend their organization to a friend. This caring often manifests itself in the form of psychological safety.

There is one critical success factor every manager and team leader must add to their toolbox in the struggle against Pandemic-Related Stress Disorder (PRSD). In a managerial setting, “I am feeling for you” counsels sympathy. It is indeed more natural and less risky to show sympathy because it does not require that we become vulnerable. In contrast, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feeling of another, where you feel the pain of your colleague. Many crave the engagement inherent in empathy. Compassion motivates people to help with the physical, mental, or emotional suffering of another.

A confident leader embodies Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion (SEC). If an organization is going to triumph over this pandemic, SEC is just as important as wearing a mask. But the benefits don’t just accrue to the recipient and the organization. The SEC-transmitter often experiences enhanced serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter responsible for feeling good. The “SEC High” is a palpable phenomenon as it releases endorphins, the feeling that follows exercise.

One cannot help but observe that the overlapping variables in some of today’s hottest management trends (e.g., emotional intelligence, design thinking) are anchored in empathy. Mahatma Gandhi, an empath of the highest level, understood the importance of experiencing what he wished to understand and positively impact. Today we teach managers that if they want to know what the customer buys, they need to look in the customers’ eyes. Gandhi had the realization that if you really wish to begin to understand life of the poorest people in India, you do so by stepping into the shoes of the peasant farmer. How better for a manager to understand the ones they are trying to help than to engage in empathy walks? How better to innovate than to understand what people need and want?

Higher performing managers visualize the impact of an invisible threat. The covertness of PRSD makes addressing the challenge all the more pressing. Managers must recognize that a low ascertainment rate due to undetected symptoms makes risk identification and mitigation all the more pressing.

If the past is prologue, managers will find that SEC is as important to the effectiveness and efficiency of employees as face coverings and physical distancing are to physical health. They will find that a little bit of SEC goes a long way in building a more engaged, productive, trusting, and loyal workforce.

As Gandhi’s philosophy indicates, “To sustain the change we wish to see in the world, it is imperative that we focus on sympathy, empathy, and compassion.” Be a great leader. Show that you care.

About the Authors:

David A. Shore, PhD, is a former Associate Dean of Harvard University where he continues to teach and lead professional development programs. He is the former Distinguished Professor of Innovation and Change at Tianjin University of Finance and Economics (China). Shore serves on multiple boards including the McKinsey & Company Implementation Advisory Board.

Raman Gandhi Solanki is a graduate student at Harvard University.


Company: Dr. Jeffrey Lant Associates
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SOURCE: Dr. Jeffrey Lant Associates

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