The one thing that can get us though this pandemic

While people are rushing to buy hand sanitizer and toilet paper – although whoever spread that fake news certainly had a warped sense of humour – those are not what’s going to get communities through the pandemic. We’re so used to having our independence and being able to make our own individual decisions without really thinking about how it impacts the world around us. Now all of that has changed.

Now we must stop and think, not only how we might be impacted, but also how our actions will impact others, particularly those who are vulnerable. All the physical actions we take will make an impact but it’s empathy more than anything else that is going to help us survive the covid-19 pandemic.

According to the statistics and information that we have so far, 80% of people who get infected make a full recovery, those who don’t are those who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions. So the reality is that it’s not about us. It’s an opportunity to start to look outside our bubble and show real empathy for others.

What does this look like for business owners?

There’s no question that this is going to be a trying time, both financially and economically. People may be concerned if they’ll still get paid or even have a job to come back to. There may be businesses that won’t survive, there may be businesses that will be scraping by, and there will be large organisations that will have to dig deeply into their pockets. And for once, instead of making decisions based on the bottom line, they will need to think of their people above their profits. In the UK we are extremely fortunate that our Government is taking the steps necessary to protect employers, employees and the wider community.  I’m not so sure there are many countries as fortunate as us.

It’s an opportunity for organisations to truly show that they value and care about the wellbeing of their employees by supporting them. Working from home isn’t such a hardship and allowing them to continue working from home on a flexible schedule. With schools closed, those with families will find it nearly impossible to put in a full day’s work from 9-5. There will be numerous interruptions and distractions so while in theory it’ll be possible to carry on as usual because their work is computer based, the reality is that productivity will go down. Employees should not be reprimanded or penalised for that. Rather, business owners should be appreciative that people are still willing to put in the effort.

In the same way as many schools have now shifted their learning online, this is also an opportunity for businesses to make learning resources available to employees. Having the distraction of doing a course when it’s not possible to work can go a long way to reducing stress and helping people feel less anxious about the situation. It can provide them with a purpose which in turn ignites feelings of hope.

Keeping in touch with staff, finding out how they are and checking to see if they need any help or support is empathy in action. The funny thing is that when people are on the receiving end of empathy they are far more likely to be empathetic towards others.

Employees practicing empathy

For many people earning a pay cheque, they’re often distanced from the realities of balancing the books at the end of every month. As much as business owners may support their staff, they too will need understanding from their employees. Businesses all over are taking a big knock. Supply chains are interrupted and many operations have been halted or limited due to safety concerns, which means that revenue cannot be generated. Some big businesses may have the resources to continue to pay salaries regardless, but many will not. Business owners are only too well aware that staff rely on their salaries, but if they don’t have the money and can’t generate the money, what are they to do? While government has announced that they will support businesses, it’s not clear yet what this will look like or how it will be implemented. So employees should allow their employers some grace when it comes to paying salaries and realise that everyone is facing similar challenges.  

While this is a very scary and unprecedented time, it can also be an opportunity to reset, slow down, and evaluate what’s important and who is important in our lives. Perhaps the best thing that can come from this situation is that people start reconnecting with empathy and more consideration for others. What has been your experience? Have you been on the receiving end of empathy?