Did you know that most people spend an average of almost 50 percent of their day at, or devoted to, their job? Realistically, this number is often higher, meaning that we spend a lot of time with the people that we share an office or work environment with. In fact, we are around our coworkers more than our own loved ones a lot of the time! So, why don’t we know more about the people who we share the coffee pot with? What is life really like for the guy in the cubicle next to yours? More importantly, how and why do we need to change this lack of being in the know?
Empathy goes a long way, but we live amid a culture that doesn’t always encourage or nurture that kind of understanding. People are so busy that they become unintentionally self-centered. We aren’t actually seeing the people around us; we are just passing them by, or assuming that we know everything about them because of what lies on the surface. This also means that we often pass judgement based on superficial and inaccurate ideas that we accept as facts.
Think about your place of employment for a minute. No matter what industry, specialty or market you’re involved in, you’re like your own little melting pot. People from every walk of your professional realm are thrust into the same metaphorical petri dish.
When it comes to production and performance, every employee is on a different rung of your company’s ladder. Things might be smooth sailing on your crosspiece, but what about the other support slats? How much harder did the people around you have to work to get to their place on the company climb? I’m not talking about work ethic. I’m talking about the things that are hard to recognize when we aren’t actually seeing the people around us: situational and mental health obstacles.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 18.1 percent of adults in the United States are affected by some type of anxiety disorder. That’s approximately 40 million people between the ages of 18 to 54. The number is actually thought to be closer to around 30 percent, because many people don’t know they have an issue, don’t find treatment or are misdiagnosed. Anxiety, along with similar afflictions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is not only a pervasive disorder, but also a crippling illness that can be misunderstood.
The things that are commonly chalked up as “personality quirks,” that sometimes make people hard to work with,  can actually be unavoidable traits that people weren’t given the option of dealing with. They are huge boulders that people are lugging around with them wherever they go; imagine having to pull that weight up the ladder with you!
My challenge for you today is to work on paying some empathy forward to your coworkers. Remember that you don’t know what the people around you are walking through the door with; everyone has something. Advocacy and understanding for others is the most valuable gift that you can give to a person. It won’t make a dent in your wallet, but to positively impact a person is a priceless investment. Dig deep, and reach down to the person climbing below you. Sometimes a genuine ear, smile, or five minute chat in the break room will turn into the helping hand that kept them from slipping off the ladder. When you work on understanding the people that aren’t like you, you will see them for who they really are, and you will probably end up really liking them.
The guy just above you might actually be barely holding on; be the push that helps him regain his grip on the rung.
 Tiffany Eckert is a mother of three children, Gold Star Wife, passionate supporter of the military community and a strong advocate of paying it forward. She has locked arms with the Medix team as a blog contributor, sharing her insights into military issues and social responsibility.