I went to work on Monday, March 16th. About 2 o’clock that afternoon my manager called to say it’s happening; pack up your laptop and go home. In the span of about a minute I became an instant remote employee along with many other people. In the scheme of things, home is a very, very fortunate place to be during a pandemic, no question, but working from home still carries potential for some serious struggle. Overnight people went from the luxurious ability to send everyone in the household off for their day before heading off to an environment nicely set up for work, to sending everyone as far away in the house as safely feasible before heading over to a desk made out of a pile of boxes and attempting to get something done before someone had a need.
Chris Port, the COO of a Dell Technologies business, captured the situation very accurately in a June 7th Forbes Article on home-bound employees: “It is time we recognize the difference between working from home and being at home during a crisis trying to work.”
Did anyone else just breathe a sigh of relief reading that? While employee engagement and productivity are fundamental imperatives for businesses trying to survive and needing to provide service, the third imperative has to be figuring out how to help employees get the job done as well as humanly possible, given the circumstances being what they are. Reading that distinction between working from home and being sent home during a crisis to try to work from home was so reassuringly helpful — and I’m not even homeschooling kids or competing with anyone for prime workspace! But the fact of the matter is, life is not normal for anyone and everything has been thrown out of whack.
Of course everyone worries about what would happen to our mission and business if we remote workers all just kicked back and relaxed. But I’m also worried about what I know is also going on out there: a lot of self-critical intolerance of any perceived weakness or lesser performance leaking out, something I’m personally familiar with.
Being a wellness person, though, I naturally then instruct myself to chase that criticism with compassion. But I’ve been noticing something about compassion. While it helps to ease something in me, it doesn’t quite get the job done: there is always something still unsettled which compassion alone doesn’t quite reach. But I got to the bottom of the compassion shortfall this past weekend when I detected a hint of pity mixed in with the compassion. That explains it: pity doesn’t quiet anything.
It seemed reasonable that pity’s opposite would rectify the situation so after searching around awhile I landed on respect. And because I like pretending I’m scientific, I conducted an experiment to put it to the test by drumming up some honest regard for how hard I’m trying and how hard this pandemic is even though I’ve got it pretty good compared to what some other people have been given for assignments in this pandemic.
The results of my experiment were statistically significant: 100% of the research participants involved (me) reported not only feeling significantly better but inspired to just keep trying. Trying harder even.
My conclusion is this: respect is an essential companion to compassion. If there is an experience worthy of compassion, then the circumstances for creating that experience is worthy of respect, be those circumstances human failings and mistakes or existential chance and misfortune. My hunch is that for whatever else respect is good for, it also serves as a very good checks and balance against pity. To take this back to science, I don’t think pity would survive in a petri dish once respect was introduced.
What about you? Does something different come out of you when you give yourself some respect for what you are managing and feeling?
Note: This story was originally published as Wellness Wednesday, a weekly column I write on being whole and healthy for the organization I work for as their wellness specialist.