If you fear for your own safety—or the safety of your loved ones—amidst the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, you know that fear can have a big impact on your sense of well-being. If your workplace isn’t supportive, you know how isolating and frustrating it can be.

At Empower Work, we regularly hear from Asian American workers who are struggling with questions of safety, understanding, and belonging at work. We also know that your mental health matters. And we’re here to help. 

Navigating Asian American identity and safety at work

When you’re worried about your safety at work  

In the past few years, violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been on the rise. You might know someone who has been impacted, or you might be worried that you or someone you love could be the next target. It can feel impossible to step outside when you’re worried about your safety.

Living with this fear can also make it hard to show up to work. This is especially true if you feel you don’t have any allies or you feel like no one at work shares or understands your concerns. 

One person who reached out to Empower Work wrote: 

“Due to the hate crimes against Asian women, I’m afraid to travel for my work. I talked to my supervisor and she doesn’t understand [and isn’t] supportive. Neither is HR.” 

If you’re scared for your safety, you deserve for that fear to be acknowledged, validated, and responded to. Your fear should never be dismissed. 

When your coworkers just don’t get it 

Maybe you don’t fear for your own physical safety every day, but you’re struggling with the reality that many others in the AAPI community are. This can be especially hard when you’re in a workplace with coworkers who are insensitive or just don’t get it. 

This is a common theme we hear at Empower Work. People have shared: 

“A colleague made some troubling statements without seeming to realize how folks are feeling about anti-Asian violence lately….

“I would like for [my colleague] to consider my other colleagues’ perspective before making broad, sweeping statements (even if she’s quoting someone else) that are racially charged after a violent attack on AAPI community members.”

It can feel hurtful, frustrating, and demoralizing to put up with insensitive comments like this on a daily basis. It can also add to feelings of discomfort or isolation at work. 

When your workplace is trying, but it’s complicated

You may find yourself in a workplace where people are trying to be sensitive and supportive, but it still feels complicated—or adds more work for you when they expect you to be their personal DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) educator. 

People who have reached out to Empower Work have shared: 

“In the past, she (my coworker) has apologized to me for some silly things that I never even noticed or thought about but apparently she thought were infractions she committed towards me…. She seems very sensitive to be seen as an ally in DEI and diversity issues (she is white I am Asian).”

“[I wanted the] outcome of her simply acknowledging that they have missed the mark on racial equity issues, but that they are open to learning. I know people will mess up, this work is messy.”

If you feel like you’re expected to respond in a certain way, educate others, or you’re constantly disappointed by how those around you are (or are not) handling the situation, it can take a toll.

Even if you’re in a workplace that will take action to be supportive, it can still be stressful if you’re always the one who has to point out the problems in the first place. 

As one person shared with Empower Work: 

“I am a woman of color and brought up some microaggressions and off color comments to HR….HR was the one to use the word “harassment”. Now, the company is in the process of finding a 3rd party to do an investigation.” 

In many ways, this was a responsive outcome. Her workplace believed her concerns, named it as harassment, and hired a third party to investigate. Yet it was still a big emotional and intellectual burden to manage. 

So how do you prioritize your own mental health? 

Prioritizing your own mental health

Whatever your situation, and however you choose to respond, remember that your own safety and mental health comes first. As the old saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.  

1. Find support that works for you. Perhaps you can find someone at work who shares your concerns or experiences, and confide in them about what you’re feeling. Outside of work, organizations like the Asian Mental Health Collective and the Asian American Health Initiative are a great way to connect with mental health resources tailored to your experience. Exploring different options will help you determine what works best for you. 

2. Seek community. You don’t have to go through this alone. The BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month Toolkit from Mental Health America outlines the importance of community-developed systems of support. This can include community care, such as peer support or healing circles, and cultural care, which includes generational practices for healing and resiliency. 

3. Take action. Channeling your fear and frustration into action may help you focus on what you can control. The Stop AAPI Hate initiative offers ways to report, educate, and take action against racism and hate incidents. Movement Hub provides resources for AAPI organizations and individuals working to advance racial equity and intersectional justice. 

4. Pace yourself. You don’t have to solve everything for everyone. One person who reached out to Empower Work shared: 

“I am asian american, which gives me much more power and privilege than my black and brown coworkers, so I feel like I need to use my platform for the betterment of everyone.”

This might feel like a lot of pressure. Remember that changing your workplace is not entirely up to you. When you seek community, take action, and prioritize your own mental health, you’ll help build community care and a more sustainable workplace for everyone. 

If you’d like to discuss what you’re experiencing, how to understand what you’re feeling, and what options you have for your current and future workplace situations, a trained peer counselor is just a text away: 510-674-1414.

Supporting AAPI employee mental health as a leader year-round

Leaders have the most power to change culture. If you have decision-making power, like working in HR or as a manager, you can take tangible steps to support AAPI employee mental health throughout the year. 

  1. Do more than make a statement. While making a statement is a good starting gesture, it’s not enough. A little does not go a long way when many workers’ well-being are at risk. Hard work and action goes into making a change—and it starts with leaders. Check out our suggestions to make your workplace more supportive of BIPOC employees’ mental health: invest in BIPOC leadership and community, offer mental health benefits that work, and take meaningful action when concerns are raised. 
  2. Stay committed to your own learning, reflection, and action. The work of making an impact and change should not solely rest on those in the AAPI community. To become a good ally, you must commit to your own learning, reflection, and action. Check out our series on contributing to a more inclusive workplace for more: Part 1: Commit to Learning, and Part 2: Take Action.  

Building workplaces that uplift and support AAPI workers—and all other BIPOC and/or historically marginalized workers—takes conscious, sustained effort by people throughout the organization. This work is never over.

The good news? Empower Work is here to provide support. Reach out to a trained peer counselor to get immediate, confidential support by texting 510-674-1414.

This blog post originally appeared on Empower Work’s website.