Something's happening. Something significant. Something important. And it’s palpable.
On Friday, May 11th sixty public servants gathered in Olympia for just the fifth monthly Human Workplace Meet Up.
These government employees came from many different state agencies as well as from Pierce County, King County, and from the US Military. They joined us not only from human services organizations like the Departments of Health, Early Learning, and Social and Health Services, as you might expect, but also from the Departments of Corrections, Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, Lottery, Labor and Industry, Licensing, Recreation Conservation Office, and many more.
We were honored to have one participant in uniform.
They gathered to talk about empathy.
Please let that sink in for a moment. Government employees streamed in on a sunny Friday morning to talk about empathy.
This particular gathering was guest facilitated by Jessica Dang from our Governor’s Results Washington Office. We reflected on empathy, what happens when we aren’t empathetic, and when we are, and how to be more empathetic. We went away with an intention and plan to act with more empathy in one specific situation.
In the photo, participants in one activity listened to music first from their own perspective, and then with empathy from the perspective of their partner to learn more about empathy.
Half had never attended a Human Workplace Meet Up before; many I’d never met nor spoken with. But there they were, eager to talk about empathy. And they were ready for more than that. They were ready to connect with others who believe we need to care about people. They were ready to talk with others who agree that the workplace does not have to be cold, hard, callous, discriminating, and fearful. They were ready to explore how empathy belongs at work. How their humanity belongs at work. How they can personally make work more human.
So what’s happening? Is there something unique about these public employees?
I don't think so. Don't get me wrong; they are awesome! But look around wherever you work and realize this: You are also surrounded by people looking for meaningful human connections and a way of working that makes more sense than the usual fearful, cold, humanity-denying workplaces that are all too prevalent today.
I guarantee it.
I say this with confidence because everywhere I go to talk about a human workplace and to advocate for more love and less fear at work, most people respond with relief, warmth, enthusiasm, excitement, and gratefulness. Frankly, it’s been stunning.
I began this work thinking that this message was going to resonate with a minority of people. I thought this minority needed encouragement to balance out the dominant, negative, bullying mentality prevalent in our society.
But I was wrong.
This message of love and empathy and humaneness doesn’t resonate with a minority of people. It resonates with MOST PEOPLE. Because you know what? No one does their best when they are afraid, and most of us recognize this. I’m not talking about feeling uncomfortable, like when you are learning something or when starting a new role. I’m talking about not doing our best when we feel threatened and deeply fearful about being accepted on the team, keeping our job, and earning a living. No one does well in that condition. No one does well when change happens and they don't know how to succeed. No one does well when they are betrayed, or humiliated, or when they are not supported when facing a crisis. No one.
But we flourish when we are loved at work. We feel loved when we know our leaders care about us. We feel loved when our teams are like families and when we are supported during hard times. Every one of us. And then we do and give our best to our team and to our customers.
Government has a reputation for being cold, callous, and uncaring. Sadly, there are many examples that justify that reputation. Put good people in a bad system, in a fearful system, and the system wins out every time.
But what I see happening in our state and local governments is a movement to change that system, to restore humanity to government. I see a growing movement to restore empathy and care both for public servants and for the public we serve. Government workers are embracing empathy and a new way of working focused on people.
Aren’t you ready too? Today we can make government more human.