‘Compassion fatigue’ in times of COVID-19?
Will we survive in 2020? The question that most people are discussing in the fourth month both on and offline. It definitely looks like a tough year to survive. If we listen to political comedian Hasan Minhaj’s video shared on 30th Dec 2019, it would seem like everybody is suffering from compassion fatigue. He said, “We are exposed to all the news, all the time, which makes us feel like we need to care about everything all the time”.
The Merriam-Webster defines compassion as a sympathetic consciousness of others' distresses together with a desire to alleviate it. 'Compassion fatigue' is defined as apathy or indifference toward the suffering of others as the result of overexposure to tragic news stories and images and the subsequent appeals for assistance. Compassion is the need of the hour and we need it now, more than ever. But do we have any left?
In the year 2001, Kutch was badly hit by a devastating earthquake and companies like Reliance, Tatas, Kandla Port Trust rushed to aid. FICCI and CII adopted villages and helped them in their maximum capacity. However, the same treatment was not seen in case of many other immediate natural or man-made tragedies that followed due to varying politics, social or economic reasons. As per experts, one reason for such behavior was ‘compassion fatigue’.
The rapid outbreak of the novel coronavirus has changed the way we live, work, and communicate. Across the globe, organizations are working hard to deal with the pandemic by focusing on their primary responsibility i.e. caring for their employees while navigating the shift to new patterns of work. Enough has already been said and written about the pandemic that has grappled the world for over a month now. The lockdown in India since the 25th march has forced all the white-collar employees to work from home (WFH) and also gave birth to the latest hashtag #WFH. There is no doubt about the fact that this is not an ideal work scenario and the employers and employees are genuinely having a tough time getting used to this routine which has recently come to be known as the ‘new normal’. Well, nobody knows how long this will go on, the world seems to be functioning in terms of 24*7 consumption of trending news on coronavirus and coronavirus only. It is not easy for anybody, but people are dealing with it and coping in their own ways.
Employees usually assume the employers or the heads of the organizations to know it all or expect them to have the best possible answer to handle emergencies but till something like this actually happens one is clueless as to what is the best possible measure. The news of layoffs, demotions or cutting down of certain official positions to manage financial loss has really been a huge setback for most people (employees). Startups have started laying off staff and, in some cases, asked employees to take pay cuts as they look for ways to weather the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the employees of various firms who spoke to Economic Times. Online insurance firm Acko has laid off around 50 employees, a majority of whom work in the customer service, operations, sales and marketing segments. Acko founder Varun Dua said 45 people were “impacted”. The employees in the aviation industry like many other employees are also badly hit by this pandemic.
It is also true that employers are not having it any easier and it is definitely tough for them too. But a well-planned strategic move is the need of the hour. The 2016 Empathy Index reflected that of the 170 companies studied, eight Indian ones were in the bottom 20 of the list. This goes on to explain that Indian companies showed, in relative terms, the lowest levels of empathy towards their employees. One really ponders whether the race to get ahead has made the Indian workplace lose its ‘human’ touch altogether or there is something else to the picture?
It is true that India’s corporate has donated more than Rupees 2700 Crore either directly or indirectly to help fight Covid-19. The donations have come from Tata Trusts, JSW group, ITC, Larsen and Toubro, Vedanta, Bajaj group, Adani Foundation, Hero cycles among many others.
One knows that these are tough times and the workforce, in general, is experiencing the worst setbacks of all time. However, it is exactly in times like these that a culture of compassion has to be created and nurtured. Nobody literally ‘prepares’ for such a large scale loss of work and time, but this is the time to do that and be there for your employees in whichever capacity possible and not leave alone to row the boat in this storm.