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I’m writing this as I’m rocking my youngest child to sleep. It’s about an hour past the time I planned on going to bed. I’ve spent the last hour walking around my house, holding my 2 year old. Right about the time I was headed to bed, she woke up crying, unable to sleep due to allergies, trouble breathing, and an earache. As I held her close and walked around the house putting her back to sleep, I started thinking about how hard it is to be a working mom. My initial plans, which consisted of going to bed semi-early, getting a full night of sleep, waking up early to do some housework, and then spending my day working, has quickly turned into a night cut short, more than likely resulting in me sleeping in as late as I can (aka not doing the housework I intended) and fueling myself with a large coffee in the morning, after I scramble to get everybody up, ready, and out the door for school. No nap in sight.

Being a working mom is hard I thought to myself as my mind flashed back to the last ear infection just a month ago. Sitting in the urgent care room on a Sunday morning, just hours before I was scheduled to fly out of town for a week. Juggling work and kids can be difficult. And then add in the mom guilt and the judgement spewing from the mouths of others.

I then began to think about what non-moms struggle with. Who am I to complain that being a working mom can be difficult at times? Who am I to assume that others don’t have the struggles or don’t deal with judgement from others? I began to realize that everybody has difficult moments. Everybody has periods of time where life is less than ideal. Times when trial after trial seems to flood our lives. Times where it’s difficult to get up and perform your best at work, due to some external factor(s). This isn’t a mom thing. This is a human thing. As a mom, we may have struggles others don’t experience. However, it by no means makes our issues worse than anybody else’s. What about the person going to work, while a loved one is sick in the hospital? What about the person who forced themselves to get out of bed, despite their relationship ending the night before? The individual who’s significant other just lost their job, resulting in a loss of income.

As my little girl is beginning to fall back asleep in my arms, I start to ponder what is expected from an organization that allows “life” to happen to their employees. An organization and leader that doesn’t believe work is the only thing employees deal with. A place that understands there is life outside of work. What does it take to allow employees to feel comfortable, to feel like they don’t need to be perfect. To allow them to deal with issues that arise outside of work? Empathy is what is needed in the workplace. 

How to encourage empathy in the workplace

Empathic leadership – In a team setting, most everything starts with the leader. Just as a child learns by mimicking their parent(s), employees (even without realizing it), will mimic their leader. If you have an empathic leader, it is more likely that employees with follow suit. So why is empathy important? Empathy is being aware of others feelings, and understanding the needs of others. Having empathy in the workplace goes way behind understanding the needs and feelings of others only when they are going through a hard time. When you are an empathic leader, employees will feel more comfortable talking with you if they are going through a tough time. This is beneficial because if something is truly wrong, and performance of the employee isn’t up to par, it is beneficial to everybody to understood why, so adjustments can be made as needed. Additionally, having empathy in the workplace helps employees build better relationships, and helps them understand each other better. Even if nobody is going through a tough time, strong relationships with a team that understands each other results in clear communication, no fear of failure, and a clearer understanding of who excels at what. Being an empathic leader will result in a strong team that is able to work together through the good and the bad.

Empathic Team – Each person must realize that their problems are not the worst. Sure, life is hard sometimes and bad things happen. Everybody can attempt to justify why their issue is worse than another. Whether you’re a mom, a dad, single, married, male, female, we are all susceptible to go through difficult moments. When we each stop looking at our problem as “the worst”, we can better sympathize with those who are going through tough times. When you walk around always thinking nobody has it as bad as you, you develop a need for people to constantly feel sorry for you, and other employees feel as if they are not valued or understood. 

How to practice empathy in the workplace

Encourage employees to talk and interact with one another. There are many activities you can do in order to help others begin opening up and talking to each other. One activity includes assigning new “partners” every week, and requiring each person to find out 3 facts about their partner. At the end of the week (or the end of the allotted time), ask each person to share what they have learned. Creating a culture where employees are comfortable talking with each other, and eventually begin to understand each other, yields many benefits. 

Encourage your employees to talk about the highs and the lows each week. Allowing your employees to open up about something that went right, as well as something that didn’t go right (either at work and/or in their personal lives), allows employees to practice opening up more to their colleagues, and allows each colleague the chance to provide encouragement, make suggestions, or just empathize with each employee. This can be done at the start or end of each week, allowing each employee to take a turn.

When employees begin feeling comfortable with each other, and start to truly understand each other, each person will begin feeling comfortable opening up and discussing issues that rise up. At the same time, employees will start to understand their colleagues, allowing them to begin to listen more, understand better, and pick up on any cues that something may be wrong. This allows adjustments to be made, and any issues to be addressed initially before causing major issues. 

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