Workplace Empathy During a Global Crisis

The last 18 months were anything but ordinary. From a new global virus that shook the entire world, changed our lifestyle, and allowed bias to take place against the Asian community, police brutality and social injustice against the Black community that occurred right at our doorsteps, political divide and election tension that still continues to cultivate, and now the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Afghanistan. 

Why am I talking about something that is not actually happening in our country, the United States? Because it’s impacting your Afghan employees and their families. It’s a humanitarian issue that everyone should be educated on. It’s part of our history and will be part of our future. And eventually, this will affect the US. 

Workplace Empathy During a Global Crisis | Why is Empathy important in the workplace?

I am an Afghan American. I was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. My entire family is from Kabul, Afghanistan, and like many other Afghan families living in the US, they had to flee their homeland, the only country, and language they knew, when the Soviet Union took over in the early 80s. The current situation in Afghanistan has profoundly impacted my community, family, friends, and myself. I never was able to see where my family built what they thought would be their forever home, where they grew up, or where they created the most beautiful and precious memories that I hear about daily. And like many other children of immigrants, I may never see it. 

Like any issue, everyone has the right to their own opinion and perspective. But how well educated and informed you are on these issues makes a significant impact. People get their facts and stories from all kinds of channels, specifically social media. 

Everyone’s opinion on the current situation is biased. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. But, whether it’s within or outside the Afghan community, one thing is important to keep in mind…empathy; putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and experiencing what we’re feeling, our anger, our sadness, our confusion, and the feeling of betrayal.

Why is Empathy important in the workplace?

Everyone experiences situations differently and has personal lives outside of work, therefore having empathy ensures every employee to feel understood and supported. It builds trust amongst your team, builds acceptance, and allows for more effective communication.

What can you do and how to show workplace empathy?

Recently, I posted these questions on my Instagram story: Has your company or manager addressed the crisis going on in Afghanistan? Have they checked in on you, either on a 1:1 level, team level, or company-wide? Would you want them to? 

By little surprise, I received a lot of feedback. Everyone who responded pretty much gave a similar answer: they hoped their company or managers would at least bring up the issue and hoped that their colleagues and teammates would at least ask how their Afghan coworkers are doing. 

A friend in HR said she wishes she could talk about it at her company, but the tricky issue is that if HR speaks on one specific issue, at some point, someone will be upset that they didn’t bring up some other issue. Another wished they could donate money, offer pro bono programs, or refer an immigration attorney. Another friend says her company only focuses on issues happening within the US, but for a company that is well known globally, she would hope they would bring up the topic internally and offer donations. Many people who responded found it disappointing that neither their company nor manager brought up the issue on a company or team level.  

So, what could companies and leaders do at a minimum with a bigger impact?

Recognize what’s going on, be empathetic to your Afghan employees and embrace workplace empathy, and offer mental health days off and support. Your Afghan employees likely have family members stuck in Afghanistan and trying to flee. It is likely that your Afghan employees are experiencing survivor’s guilt; that we are here living our lives while our people are suffering and struggling under a new, dangerous so-called “government” (the Taliban are not the government) in their homeland. It is likely that your Afghan employees have had difficulty focusing, experienced a lack of productivity, and are seriously impacting their emotional and mental health. It is likely that your Afghan employees may not feel supported by your leaders and company overall.

We are not okay and we will not be okay for a while. All we ask is for your empathy, to understand our perspective, to remove the bias of our country, which was full of hope, freedom, and dreams, and to stay educated about the issue. It’s no longer about politics, money, or war. It’s about humanity and what we can do collectively to support each other.

Resources to share with your colleagues to support Afghan refugees:

​​Afghan Diaspora of Equality and Progress
Timeline of the War from 1999 – 2001
More info on Afghan Refugee Aid Resettlement

Resources on how to show workplace empathy:

Empathy When Communicating in the Workplace is Crucial for All
Address Mental Health in the Remote Workplace

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Hassina Obaidy
Product Marketing Manager | Emtrain
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