Every generation has felt the weight of worrisome world events.
Those nearing retirement age today grew up in the social turmoil of the 1960s and lived through numerous financial meltdowns in the subsequent decades. People in their 50s understand better than most how 9/11 altered just about everything, professionally and otherwise. The generations that came after them are dealing with sweeping digital transformations (including pervasive social media) and a once-in-a-century global pandemic. And yet the beat goes on.
Life has never been easy or predictable. What gets us through is sharing compassion, empathy, and understanding. It’s a lesson that leaders should take to heart, in good times and bad. When you cultivate a more compassionate culture at work, both the company and its workers will benefit.
Making Compassion a Top Priority
When leaders want to infuse deeper compassion and empathy into their companies’ DNA, they can start by embracing a few key practices:
1. Remove barriers between workers and bosses. Employee productivity and morale are just two indicators of job satisfaction that show marked improvement under compassionate leadership. When you as a leader can encourage both professional and personal growth, you gain employees’ trust and create a dynamic work environment where people feel free to bring their authentic best selves to the equation every day.
To that end, identify and remove any and all barriers and boundaries that may exist between levels of leadership and employees in order to strengthen communication and community among the overall team. This may involve establishing an open-door policy that allows workers to reach out for information or advice at any time. The more you can understand an employee’s unique set of circumstances and various needs, the better you’ll be able to find positive solutions to concerns.
2. Show care for employees with concrete support. As mentioned before, we live and work in increasingly traumatic times. There’s a seemingly seismic shift to process every week, and employees are understandably frazzled. Leaders who know how to put employees first through acts of compassion do a much better job of holding companies together during times of crisis than those who prefer to rule with an iron fist.
It’s not particularly difficult to show employees that you genuinely care about their feelings and well-being. As author and communications consultant Robin Madell put it: “Compassionate leaders need to be willing to be vulnerable by opening themselves up to empathy and support from others in the organization.”
First and foremost, keep lines of communication open and check in on everyone to ask how they and their families are faring: Do they need anything you can help with? Beyond that, express gratitude and recognize people for their contributions. It’s also not a bad idea to revisit the company policies on extended leave, health benefits, and flexible work schedules. These are investments that reward your company in the form of employee retention and productivity while promoting the company’s authentic brand traits as a source of good in the world.
3. Learn and cultivate compassion toward yourself. Showing weakness is a strength, and developing the emotional intelligence necessary to lead a team of human beings is no easy or automatic task. You must be willing to work on yourself — through therapy, yoga, mentorship opportunities, you name it — so that your team can reap the benefits.
“It’s difficult to build compassion without empathy, so leaders need to develop enough emotional intelligence to understand what each situation within their business requires,” says Kristen Sieffert, president of Finance of America Reverse, a retirement solutions company, providing home equity products for those in or nearing retirement. “Whether through self-reflection, coaching, or some other means, accept that you don’t know everything — nor should you. Learn to lead from within.”
When employees are navigating unprecedented challenges, it’s more important than ever to practice compassion for yourself and for them. By expanding your empathy for yourself and others, offering concrete ways to lighten employees’ burdens, and breaking down barriers that prevent people from asking for help, you set up your business to have happier, healthier workers and a stronger company because of it.