Over the past year especially, there has been a global move towards actively bringing more compassion in the workplace. What role it plays in how we interact not only with our colleagues, but within the entire organisational ecosystem, from customers to supply chains, to staff and leadership.
Through our shared experiences, we have found ways to include more conversations that promote and include well-being, but how can we make this a long term inclusion and integrate it in day to day life at work that’s beneficial to people, businesses and long term sustainability?
Being Seen and Heard
Challenges or conflicts between people in a working environment does not in itself mean that there’s no compassion present. Disagreements can occur for many reasons and usually there are multiple opinions at play. If approached with compassion, this can be an open and beneficial discussion for a working group and business. It can be a part of how teams connect and learn through different perspectives and experiences and can see the beginnings of new innovations and creative ideas. This could include how to improve a product or service, or how to operate a better system or process. If everyone is able to share their views and feelings and explain their why behind their opinion, they are more likely to feel seen and heard which deepens their sense of value, contribution and belonging, even if the end result is not 100% in line with their opinion.
Without a space for people to safely express themselves – safely being without judgement or fear of being punished for it in some way – the frustrations of not being seen or heard build up and are expressed through a disconnection within the team and this embeds itself in the company culture. It becomes a bad seed that has the potential to grow if it is not looked at.
In a relationship where there are only two people interacting, it is in a simpler format to be aware of compassion. In a room of multiple people it can appear harder to find a middle ground as there are so many different factors happening simultaneously – multiple personalities, perspectives, emotions and motivations. This magnifies the presence of compassion, or non-presence of, and what group behaviour and dynamic is being created, built and felt.
One way this can appear in a business is how the business strategy and wellbeing of staff gets disconnected. For example, if a leader holds a meeting with their team and says “I understand we are dealing with a lot right now, but we have a target to hit and everyone needs to play their part so let’s get focused”, this is not helpful and is actively harmful. It disengages staff, demotivates them and disconnects them from the person saying it as well as the business. It can often appear as a step away from saying “I don’t care what’s happening outside of our target and revenue plan, you are here to do a job and you need to do it to my satisfaction”. Think back to places you have worked, have you ever heard someone say “I don’t get paid enough for this”, or “They [the leader/business] don’t care about me so why should I care about them?” If so, think about what behaviour, principles or culture lead to this and why.
This type of ‘drip-fed-bad-culture’, where lots of little things daily and weekly through words and actions adds up to equal distrust and unmotivation. When anyone feels unheard or unseen, or that they cannot even ask to be seen or heard, this is where the core of the problem lies. And it’s the step before this where compassion can be invited and included.
Putting Human-ness Ahead of Fear
A business that is structured and founded on principles of personal wellbeing, connection and inclusion in a judgement and assumption-free environment most often have staff that will go above and beyond their role because these soft-skills are present in day to day interactions and operations. This is logical as it impacts their day, job satisfaction and personal motivation. In a State of Work survey conducted by Workfront, 75% of employees said their job represents more than a paycheck; they value other aspects of their work and work life which drives how they feel able to show up in their roles.
In situations where it feels like compassion is non-existent, it is likely because fear is present. Fear of not hitting a target, fear of not gaining approval or recognition from a superior or college, fear of not earning commission/needed pay, and it’s this fear that drives a wedge between people that plays out so often in the workplace and obstructs compassionate communication.
As a business, strategy is based on expertise, for instance understanding of the market, customer needs, operations and innovation. If the business strategy and operational structure are solid, there is a clear route forward to achieve these targets, generate revenue and grow. There is nothing that can be affected negatively through the presence of compassionate behaviour, infact, not having it hinders the business as people are not functioning in their full capacity or presence.
If staff feel isolated and disconnected through other people’s decisions and behaviours, this becomes the company culture and can be harmful to the business as well as people. This is because the principles of these behaviours ingrain organically into the business through the principles its operational systems and processes are based on. If the feeling is that people do not want to hold responsibility for parts of a task or project because they are worried about judgement or losing their jobs, they will be much less likely to help others. If they feel unheard, it is more difficult for them to listen to others.
In these situations, a way to introduce compassion is to pause, reflect, and listen to others. Really listen to what is being said and felt. If there are feelings of overwhelm, fears of not hitting target or fears of not doing something correctly, they may well have simple solutions, especially when aired early.
This enables people to put the necessary support structures in place and with it builds a culture of support and connection, through positive action and behaviour. A safe space for people to openly air these concerns, thoughts and feelings is a cornerstone for the compassion piece at work. Making this a continuous practice enables trust and better communication for workings within team personal dynamics as well as the business growth and company culture.
3 Ways To Integrate Compassion At Work
Dedicate a 1:1 with each of your team per month as their personal growth and reflection time. Ask them the following 3 questions, where their answers can be anything personal or work related, and they list 6 for each question (if there are more or less, work with what has come up), and time each one for 90 seconds (for the fun element).
- What do you want to learn?
- Which areas of your life do you want to grow and nurture?
- What experiences do you want to have or create?
Exploring the responses together means you learn more about your staff’s life goals, motivations and can share knowledge and support where you can, deepening your relationship and getting to know each other.
2. Actively Listen
Asking someone ‘How are you’ is a standard greeting and is often the lead into a meeting – “How is everyone/are you today?”, but how many people actually say how they feel? And, if they do, have you actively listened? If no one answers with a personal response, why? Is the environment encouraging or discouraging sharing? Look at what might be at play here and address where your team could be feeling uncomfortable or unheard – the chances are they won’t bring this up themselves. Consider asking “How are you, really?”
3. The Flip Side Awareness
When something has happened that raises emotions and you are at work, whether this is a personal or work-related situation, be aware of the emotions that are present for you, and understand not everyone will know why you are sitting with those feelings or that you in fact are even experiencing them in that moment.
At the same time, compassion expresses itself through holding this understanding for others – we do not always know what someone is experiencing, and even if we know the circumstances, we may not understand the emotions they are going through.
By bringing awareness into how each of us has our own experiences helps us to be reminded of compassionate, assumption and judgement-free spaces.
We use the term Human Resources without stopping to reflect on what it means. Humans are assets to a business – at the core of everything we do, there is a person. A person makes the decision on how to program software, what tech to use, what process to roll out – and what they say, what products to create, what messaging is used to sell, what the business strategy is. In a world full of amazing resources, humans, people, are a businesses biggest asset.
Most people spend more time at work than they do anywhere else. We interact with our colleagues more often than we do with our loved ones.
My invitation to you today is how do you want to behave in a work environment, drawing on the same principles, presence, compassion and understanding that you would in your homes and to your loved ones?
This blog was written from Re-Tribe Talks on What Compassion Looks Like in the Workplace. You can watch the full talk here.
At Re-Tribe, we support businesses, communities and individuals through our programmes of wellbeing and transformation. If you’d like to find out more about ways we can help you, your organisation or community, you can contact us here.