Going to Work After a Mass Shooting: Our Shared American Experience

Yet again, Americans are waking up to go to work just days after a terrible mass shooting. How can we bear it?
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Meg Embry
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Meg Embry is a writer at BestColleges covering all things career and education related. An award-winning journalist and editor, she has lived and worked in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States....
Updated on May 27, 2022
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Jennifer Cuellar
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Jennifer Cuellar is a managing editor at BestColleges and oversees content around college rankings and careers. She has previously worked with TheBestSchools, Lantern, Expedia, Travelocity, Quicken, and Mint as a writer, editor, and content strategis...
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If you need help getting through the workday right now, focus on these three things:

  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Be gentle with others.
  • Lead with compassion.

Here at BestColleges, one of our jobs is to provide all the resources you need to thrive in your career. But we understand your career isn't happening in a vacuum. Human thriving is about more than our day jobs.

That said, we want to acknowledge how strange it can be to keep hustling against the devastating backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, political upheaval, a land war in Europe, violent racism, and 213 mass shootings already this year — including the recent murder of 19 elementary kids and two brave teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

The grief compounds. Meanwhile, Americans keep clocking in.

Be Gentle With Yourself

We clock in because we can't afford not to. We clock in because many employers expect employees to show up regardless of what's happening in the world. We clock in because we have a vague sense that we should keep moving forward. We clock in because we don't really know what else to do with ourselves. Many of us wouldn't know how to process these tragedies even if we had the time to do it.

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But research warns that unprocessed sorrow and rage are bound to catch up with us. Chronic stress — a state most Americans have experienced over the last couple of years — is a one-way ticket to burnout. And severe burnout will stop you in your tracks.

So if you're headed in to work today with a heavy heart, be as gentle with yourself as possible. You're a human, not a machine: Take breaks, talk to colleagues, push deadlines, and drop the balls you can afford to pick up later. Say no to extra stressors and reserve some energy for yourself.

Be Gentle With Others

In one way or another, racism, prejudice, gun violence, abuse, mental illness, and loss have impacted most Americans. The threads of grief, trauma, and injustice snake through the lives of our co-workers in ways we may not be aware of. So, in the wake of a very public tragedy, be mindful of how you engage with those who may be coping with their own private pain, anger, or exhaustion.

If you feel like it would be helpful to process your emotions with someone at work, take a moment to check in with that person first. Make sure colleagues have the emotional bandwidth to engage, and respect their boundaries if they don't. Extend kindness and solidarity wherever you can.

Lead With Compassion

According to a 2021 research article published by Frontiers in Psychology, employees who report psychological safety at work are more resilient to emotional exhaustion and burnout.

If you're in a leadership position, check in on your team. Show meaningful support:

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    Acknowledge how everyone is feeling.
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    Encourage direct reports to take some time off.
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    De-prioritize deadlines, performance indicators, and production quotas in the days after a public tragedy.
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    Be sensitive to the possibility that people from different demographics may be affected more deeply by certain events.
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    Empower other leaders at your company to do the same.

A great manager once told me, "Look: We're not saving the world, here." By that, he meant, our work isn't more important than the people doing it.

We hope you love your job, find it rewarding, and care about the work you're doing. But the world will keep turning even if you don't clock in today.

Take care of yourselves. We'll be here when you get back.