One lesson this year that we shouldn’t forget

As we come to the end of a trying year, there’s one very important thing that we really should remember every day in our working lives: the importance of empathy, writes Firebrand founder Virginie O’Shea.

Much like other analysts and consultants across the globe, I’ve spent a fair amount of time summarising and expounding on what the industry’s experiences in 2020 have taught us. From the challenges and benefits of remote working through to the need to modernise legacy infrastructure and work with more than one cloud provider, I thought all the angles had been covered. But there’s one very important thing that we really should remember every day in our working lives: the importance of empathy.

This year has been a humanising one. We’ve seen the backdrops of our colleagues and clients’ lives – from their living rooms or their home offices, we’ve seen pets and children make cameo appearances throughout the day, we’ve complained about a lack of things to watch on Netflix. We’ve all faced the same fears and worries to some extent – whether that’s worrying about loved ones or concern about what the future holds for us all. We’ve had to accommodate less than optimal working hours and though we may be many miles apart, we’ve pulled together to keep the lights on at our respective firms.

It’s easy to forget these lessons when things (hopefully) go back to something resembling normality, but we really should remember the importance of empathy in this shared experience. And it’s not just about our personal lives—there are a lot of (far smarter than me) academics out there that can point out the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace. Negativity and stress can pass from one person to another quickly, which means teams can perform significantly worse than others if just one team member is suffering.

Just keeping an eye on whether someone seems stressed and asking them about it can make a big difference to that team member’s morale and the mental health of your whole team. Moreover, thinking about things from a different perspective can help you to alleviate inter-team or even intra-company conflict.

Now, I’m not a psychologist, but I do speak to a lot of people from functions across the industry every year. There’s often a degree of tension between functions from the business side and those in operations, compliance and IT (in fact, I’ve already blogged this year about the tensions between compliance and sales when it comes to client onboarding).

Recognising that these tensions exist and trying to get these teams to empathise with each other’s challenges and understand their wider goals could go some way to making governance a much easier task. This could be supported by adding targets that align with goals outside of a specific function’s previous remit—compliance-based goals for front office managers, for instance—or it could be in conducting sessions that involve multiple functions sharing their experiences in a neutral environment. And, no, I am not suggesting singing kumbaya around a fire.

This year has taught us that we’re all humans facing a similar uncertain outlook and to some extent, we’re all in the same boat. Let’s build on that empathy and understanding.