As we turned onto the runway I noticed that he was shaking ever so slightly, his incomprehensible prayers paced with a fervor that made each heaven sent cry a bit more desperate than the last. His hands were restless and began flailing as he struggled to gain purchase or comfort. He balled his fists, splayed his fingers open, then dug them into his legs and squeezed. As we gained speed his eyes went wide and upon liftoff he gazed at me with such a desperate pleading for help (or control, or escape) that I wished with all my might to aid this frightened man who was suffering so deeply.
Tonight as my plane ascended into the stormy night sky, I quietly took the hand of a man who had decided to face his fear. Through the turbulent clouds we rose, eventually breaking into the clear, a light switch of stars distracting us both as we gazed through our shared oval window. As altitude was gained and the air smoothed, his grip began to lessen, eventually releasing, and without saying a word he patted my hand twice as if to say, “I’m okay. I made it.” He almost immediately feel asleep, this brave and exhausted soul who had somehow managed to persevere.
On Fear And HR
Although we’ll never see it on the job description, we work in an environment and profession surrounded by employee fear. Fear of success and failure. Fear of not enough responsibility and taking on too much. Fear of what happens when we partner, marry, adopt, give birth, retire and die. Fear of change and stagnation, stability and chaos. Fear of being seen and unseen, promoted and demoted. Fear of bias, racism, sexism and ageism.
Moreover, we hardly ever acknowledge the real and intense fear that often surrounds the simple yet daunting words, “HR would like to speak with you.”
This is the profession we’ve chosen. And despite all the talk of Big Data, workforce planning, analytics, integrated systems, SaaS, PaaS, XML, SSO, SAML and every other important yet impersonal aspect of our world, we can’t forget the highly emotional criticality of what we do.
In the past six months alone I have sat in offices and witnessed a cacophony of emotional states that were – more often than not – triggered by an underlying source of fear. From laughter to tears, screaming to pin-drop silence, nothing is more humbling than bearing witness to the bubbling over of human emotion born of a the dangerous cocktail of panic and self-doubt.
The solace comes with the realization that we are – and should be – the quiet hand for employees to take hold of when they don’t know where to turn. We shouldn’t make fun of this role nor should we shy away from its importance. We live in a 24×7 highly detached world, and sometimes the simplest acts can be the most impactful.
I write this from 35,000 feet knowing that if he awoke, my elderly friend would not enjoy the suddenly turbulent sky or quickly tightened seat belts of the flight crew. As I start to drift off myself, I leave my palms open, facing out, less someone – like all of us – need to hold on for just a little bit longer.