Compassion at work

Making tough decisions is an unavoidable part of being a manager. It takes courage to cut staff, to tackle poor performance or to kill a much loved but no longer viable project. But that doesn’t mean you have to become toughened and uncaring about the people involved. There’s absolutely no reason that courageous decisions cannot be executed with compassion, and several good business reasons why they should.

What exactly is compassion? Academic Daniel E Martin suggests there are three elements:

  • Noticing suffering
  • Empathically feeling the person’s pain
  • Acting to ease the suffering

I would add that it should also include anticipating the suffering that may come as a result of our management decisions, and making plans to minimise or ease it. It’s not good enough to wait and see if anyone’s suffering and then act. After all, many people work hard to maintain their pride and sense of dignity in the face of misfortune and do their utmost to disguise it.

Why bother? Some decisions are hard enough without having to put in additional effort to reduce any potential fall out. But the impact on your organisation of not paying attention to the emotional wellbeing of your people is undeniable.

Stress reduction

The 2017/18 Labour Force Survey highlighted that in Great Britain In 2017/18 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health.  That’s 15.4 million days lost to stress. Whatever you can do to reduce stress at work will have an positive impact

Employee retention

The way you treat those that are affected by a decision to reduce staff will be noted by the survivors, having an effect on whether they trust you as a manager, which in turn will influence whether they want to stay or move on.

But it’s not just how you treat people during the big changes, it’s what you do on a day-to-day basis that matters. Who wants to work for someone whose lack of care makes sickness or domestic problems even more of an issue than they already are?

Whether or not you agree with Oxford Economics’ staggering estimate that it costs over £30k to replace an employee, it’s useful to consider the factors they considered when arriving at this figure:

  • Advertising the new role
  • Recruitment agency fees
  • Management time spent interviewing candidates
  • HR time spent processing replacement
  • Hiring temporary workers before the replacement starts
  • The cost of lost output while a replacement employee gets up to speed (the report suggests it takes 28 weeks on average)

That’s all very well, but some people are naturally more compassionate than others. What’s the level headed (as opposed to the tender hearted) manager to do?

A manager would never get away with saying ‘I’m no good at performance management, but I’m great at spreadsheets’; or even ‘I can’t make tough decisions, but people like working for me’. If compassion doesn’t come naturally to you, you’ll just have to learn the behaviours associated with it, or else the organisation will pay dearly for your lack of ability.

An article on 10 Ways to Bring More Compassion to the Workplace includes these everyday practices to help you develop your skills:

  • Get to know your colleagues
  • Lend a hand to someone who is under a tight deadline
  • Check the motivation behind your decisions, your words, and your behaviour
  • Design a compassion challenge to inspire daily acts of kindness

Other articles in this series: