Empathy in the Workplace

 Updated: July 8, 2020

  Tags: COVID-19EmpathyWorkplace

rt with patient

COVID-19 has put, what seems like, the entire world on hold. At a time when our members are exhausted, strained, and yet must keep pushing on, we could all use a little empathy. However, what does empathy look like? It isn’t a topic we usually hear in the workplace.

Empathy is described by Merriam-Webster as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

However, what does empathy mean to you?

“Empathy to me is a desire to understand and demonstrate compassion for those around me, no matter who they are, or what the situation,” said Rena Laliberte, RRT, CPFT.

This is a very fitting definition, especially for the times we are currently in as a society. So, what are some practical ways, respiratory therapists specifically, can show empathy to their patients? Rena and Alicia Wafer RRT, MBA, help us answer this question.

“Take the time to connect and ask people how they are feeling and how you can help,” said Rena. “Sometimes you can help and sometimes you are just an ear, but you can actively listen and respond.”

Rena gives an example of what you can say to show empathy: “I have to admit, I don’t know exactly how you feel or what you are feeling, but I can do my best to imagine and understand. I am very sorry you are going through such a rough time.”

“People need to feel connected and cared about,” said Rena.

“It is important to keep your biases, conscious and unconscious, in check,” said Alicia.

Rena feels that if you are working in health care for all the right reasons, empathy should come very natural to you. Respiratory therapists have a unique opportunity to be the face of empathy in the midst of a pandemic where some patients are left alone, sick, and filled with questions.

“There are so many, many stories about the pandemic and how difficult it was for those patients to be alone, without their loved ones,” said Rena. “It was just as hard for loved ones to have to leave their family member with us and couldn’t visit, sometimes even while they were dying. Can you imagine how you would feel? Put that into words, and that is empathy.”

We asked Rena and Alicia what their last bit of advice would be to other RTs.

The golden rule

“Respond like you would want someone to if it were your loved one in the bed,” said Alicia.

“Always think with your head, but don’t forget to think with your heart,” said Rena.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “people may forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” When we use empathy to help others feel good, we in turn feel good about ourselves.

Rena and Alicia simply say, “give it a try.”