The Importance of Compassion and Empathy in the Workplace
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The Importance of Compassion and Empathy in the Workplace

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Pathfinders/ Denim Day display

April 9, 2024

Mental wellness is fast becoming one of the cornerstones of what employees value in a workplace. After traumatic experiences, employees should feel empowered by their workplace to focus on their mental well-being. During this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, one United Way employee speaks to the importance of compassion and empathy in the workplace.

Written in collaboration with Dawn Helmrich, Director, Data and Measurement

Content Warning: This blog mentions sexual assault and harassment. If you are a survivor of assault, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County funds several programs that serve survivors that can aid in your healing.


I've worked at United Way Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County for almost 19 years. There are lots of reasons I've stayed; decent pay, good benefits, career advancement opportunities, but one of the main reasons is the way they treated me when I told them about my journey through mental illness. Dawn Helmrich, Director, Data and Measurement

Several years after being raped, one of the perpetrators that had been released from prison began showing up across the street from my house. The police said I should inform my workplace just in case something happened. Up to this point no one I worked with knew what had happened to me. 

I had hidden my anxiety, PTSD, and depression fairly well, taking sick days when I couldn't get out of bed or function. I was afraid that if my boss and others knew what I was going through they would think I wasn't capable of doing my job. I was afraid that they would realize my sick time wasn't sick time, but time I needed to care for my mental well-being. I was terrified that I would be seen as less capable, and I would never advance in my career. 

I was lucky. My United Way was interested in my experience and offered me a great deal of support. They tapped into my wealth of knowledge about sexual violence issues and encouraged me to get involved in advocacy work. They introduced me to the EAP (Employee Assistance Program), allowing me to access services and therapy. 

Not all places of employment treat mental illness as mental wellness. That's what we should focus on. By taking care of ourselves when we need to, by giving ourselves a break, by allowing the process of time to get better, that is what creates mental wellness. 

It’s why United Way funds programs in our community that support healing for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Programs like the Healing Center and Safe Mom Safe Baby at Aurora Healing & Advocacy Services provide a continuum of services to support healing for underserved survivors of sexual assault and address the needs of pregnant women experiencing domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse & Family Law program at Centro Legal Por Derechos Humanos Inc. provides complete legal representation for survivors of domestic violence, helping them navigate the court system to achieve safety and stability for themselves and their families. We fund several programs at the Family Center of Waukesha to support mental health counseling and victims of child abuse. And at the Women’s Center in Waukesha and the Milwaukee Women’s Center, Inc., we fund programs that provide emergency shelter, prevent child abuse, and provide counseling for sexual abuse and assault survivors. 

United Way funds these, and many more, programs to empower survivors to prioritize their mental and physical well-being, among others. These programs provide a supportive environment for individuals to take care of themselves and heal. 

Mental well-being is increasingly valued in the workplace, and employees should be supported to reclaim it after traumatic experiences. The American Psychological Association reports that 92% of workers said it is very (57%) or somewhat (35%) important to them to work for an organization that values their emotional and psychological well-being. Not having to hide in the shadows of depression because we are afraid of what our employers might think is an important discussion to have and is so necessary for a lot of us, especially as 38% of sexual violence survivors experience work or school problems, which can include significant problems with a boss, coworker, or peer.

You can inquire with your employer about any employee assistance programs available to you for your wellness journey, or the time you can take to seek out such programs. It is crucial that your employer invests in your mental health so that you can lead a happy, healthy life and be the best version of yourself. Living better for yourself will help all of us Live United in our community.

Pictured (at top): Pathfinders' display of decorated jeans for Denim Day, which takes place annually on the last Wednesday of April; (at right): Dawn Helmrich, Director, Data and Measurement at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County.


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