How Do You Show Empathy Through Action?

I took my morning walk today and noticed the silence. Today is the first day back to school for many, including kids in our neighborhood. There were no school buses roaring, dads with sheepish grins at the bus stop, nor moms with mimosas in hand or soon to be back to school lunches sans kids.

My exercise jumpstarted the creative juices. All summer I’ve been empathizing with working parents with minimal childcare about the momentous task ahead of virtual learning. Quite honestly, I take deep breaths and thank my lucky stars my youngest is in 7th grade. But I feel an incumbent sense of responsibility as I’ve “been there with young children” and know every working parent needs support at this time. Plain and simple – We need to support them, and they need your support. You can be a role model at this time.

Last week, I was really pleased when a new senior executive shared this message with his global organization.

Please show extra consideration for what may be beyond the 14 inch video screen. Allow for late starts and interruptions. Allow for latency in responses and adjustment for sleep deprivation. These are challenging times and the return to school magnifies an already stressful environment with the ongoing concerns of personal health, welfare and community safety.”

I was floored when I saw a local leader add on a working parent social group that she decorated an empty office in her building to become a permanent classroom for the 9-year-old daughter of her direct report. The direct report was so stressed about how to accommodate her daughter’s virtual schooling while being an office employee. The amount of empathy that manager showed will resonate forever in that direct report and child’s life. Few hundred likes later, the post was going virtual.

Me personally? I decided to pull together a list of the kiddos that are virtual and will drop off care packages with inspirational notes this weekend. I took 15 minutes of my lunch break and made some quick signs (note – I am not offended on my artistic ability!) On my community post, I encouraged my fellow neighbors to be bold and articulate about what support they need as a working parent. I led with care asking people to offer help to others. There will be matches – I know it. I love the simple equation of demand and supply.

Hopefully you may be thinking, what can I do for my virtual team or colleagues? How am I making an impact during Covid to be a supportive leader? I’d suggest the following.

1)     Reach out this week – ask how it is going and find what support they need. Just being a listening ear will mean you care. Think about sending a broader email to the larger team showing your support. You will spur productivity because your team will be willing to go the “extra mile” because you cared. And it just may bring a smile when they are now back to emails early morning or late night to ensure business deliverables are met.

2)     Adjust schedules for your team meetings & reduce team meetings. In a study from Harvard and NYU researchers, 3.1 million people from 21,000 companies from North America, Europe and the Middle East were pulsed. The team found that the workday lasted 48 minutes longer and the number of meetings increased about 13%. Yet the length of the meetings had declined. Ask your team what time works best now that virtual learning started. And ensure you have a clear agenda with clear decisions that are needed in the meeting. Sending info / updates via email may just be best. And be flexible with the locations of team meetings. If parents have children tied to laptops for 6 hours, I can guarantee you they want the child to exercise and get outside. This means mom and dad may now be listening to calls supervising the traffic flow in the cul-de-sac!

3)     Send your direct reports flowers, coffee basket, or a grub hub gift card or a simple thank you text! Or better yet? A personal note to their children to stay positive about learning!  It may be the pick-up that this parent needs to get through the week or the inspiration this little one will remember who supported them in their pursuit of learning. While recognizing your team’s efforts on work deliverable is always best practice, there still seem to be gaps with recognition, as current practices aren’t enough. Get creative!

4)     Discuss alternate schedules. Try to coach and understand what options may be mutually beneficial. Can they work four ten-hour days and attend to personal business on Friday? Is part time an option for 3-6 months? Is their vacation balance growing and they aren’t taking the time? Flexibility is winning this game and I know some parents are more than rocking it!

5)     Give permission for self-care that may conflict with a business deliverable. We’ve seen the growing research on sleep, on stress, etc. And I speak from experience, with young children, it is extremely difficult to carve this out. You may be able to coach them to a more concrete plan just with a few simple questions. “What could you do to improve this?” “What does success look like for you in a week where you invested in self-care?” “How can I help you free up some time?” “Can I facilitate a discussion with other working parents to empathize and share tips?” It may be as simple as starting meetings an hour late or ending meetings early.

I continued to be filled with a deep sense of gratitude for so many of colleagues that have put empathy into action. For those that haven’t, let’s think through what is at stake.

As Maya Angelou shared, I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.