Who really gives a damn?
It happened again. I know that I have shared before that whenever I call customer service for anything, when the person answers I will always ask, “How are you doing today?” It is often met with a myriad of different responses. This past week, on each of the five calls that I made, it was met with stunned silence and then a tentative, “I’m fine” and then straight into “How can I help you?” I’m sorry, but on this last one, I just had to ask. “Why the silence?” The response? “Most people don’t ask. It’s surprising that anyone cares.”
For me, one of the most frustrating questions in this culture is “How are you?” It is such a throwaway phrase. When I ask it, I genuinely want to know, but I find that most people only ask it as some kind of extension of hello or hi, but have no interest in or intention of caring about the response.
Well, we have to care, and not only do we have to care, but we need to talk about caring in the workplace.
Coming out of sheltering in and dealing with the pandemic, there are going to be a lot of reasons why leaders are going to need to care and talk about caring. People are hurting, as leaders we ourselves are hurting and that means that there is a real need to respond to that pain if any of us are going to come back to the office space, create new plans for operating in a wider way, manage the depression that has developed because of this pandemic, resolve conflicts stemming from anxiety around change and deal with all of the new challenges presented by unchecked mental health issues.
But first, we need to really care. There cannot be a rush to “get back” to the profit level, academic level, or success level that once was. People are in need of Time, Love and Care. Yes, in the workplace, whether the workplace is remote or in person, this needs to be addressed and I have some suggestions for how we begin to do that.
Walk Your Talk
If you have policies or programs in place for people’s wellbeing, great. But if they tell you they are not doing great and you don’t respond or if your response clearly indicates that there is no time for you to help them take care of that, so essentially what’s needed is for them to suck it up, then your policies and programs aren’t worth a damn. People need you to be able to support them in the moment as well as assist them in understanding what else and who else is available to help them.
Talk About What It Actually Means to Care
What does it mean to care about each other, clients and the community you serve? Gather folks together to have a real conversation about this. Too many of us are feeling like people just don’t care, particularly because everyone has been affected by the pandemic and many have been affected by other large issues that have taken place. It is easy to feel like people do not have time to hear about your pain, so how do we care about each other is not always the topic of conversation.
Ask Meaningful Questions Related to Caring
Ask questions without judgement. Create a space where people can be honest. Do you care? Why? What do you care about? Is it keeping your job that you care about? Is it making money so that you can survive or thrive? Is it the people that you serve? Is it your co-workers and work community? Is it the service that you give? Is it your own mental, emotional and physical health? What does it mean to really care and how do we need to show it more?
Inquire Beyond the How Are You?
When we ask that question, we need to care about the response. If we get the typical “I’m fine” then let’s be courageous enough to ask, “Are you really?” Leading with our own vulnerability doesn’t show weakness, it shows the ability to be honest in the moment and acknowledge that some days it is really tough for us too. Leading in this way can encourage others to open up about what they are going through. Some of us just need to be heard and acknowledged. Some of us need resources, all of us need mental health days and some of us just need to know that if they need you to listen, you will.
This year, let’s model leading with care because we genuinely care. I’m telling you we need it and as leaders, we’ve got to bring it. Without genuine caring, we are all just operating on autopilot with no real person at the helm and that means at some point we are headed for a very ugly crash.
I care about you. I care about us. Let’s create a caring workforce together so that people aren’t surprised when we ask “How are you today?” and we mean it.