The importance of compassion in the workplace  – during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond

The key theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is “kindness”.   The coronavirus outbreak, whilst devastating in so many ways, has also shown us that, across the globe, kindness prevails.  It’s, therefore, important that we consider how we can continue to foster compassion in all aspects of our lives, including in the workplace.

There are a range of workplace barriers that can get in the way of compassion if we let them—things like looming deadlines, conflicts among workers, or competence issues that cannot be overlooked. Organisational messages that endorse winning at all costs or prioritising self-promotion also undermine compassion at work. Employees can often feel disengaged, unappreciated and believe that their employer does not care about their personal difficulties.

Some employers may seem indifferent to the personal struggles of their staff because they believe work life and home life should be kept separate, or because they fear making a mistake in offering support. However, research shows that responding compassionately to staff improves their performance and loyalty and also creates an atmosphere that is safe for learning, collaboration, and innovation. People feel psychologically safer to take risks, be creative and to collaborate when they know they will be supported, rather than reprimanded.

So, here are our ACE pointers for how employers can foster compassion in the workplace, particularly over this difficult period:

Acknowledge – one of the most important things employers can do is simply to acknowledge that the psychological struggles of individuals are valid. For example, during the coronavirus outbreak, many are legitimately feeling anxious and finding it difficult to perform as well as they usually would at work. If they fear that this may lead to punitive action, this will further add to their anxiety. By reassuring staff that they understand their difficulties and accepting that they may not be as productive as normal, employers can help alleviate at least some of this anxiety.

Check – The simplest and easiest way you can show concern and find out exactly how your staff are coping is to ask them how they are. You should know your people and look out for any changes in behaviour that could indicate a staff member is struggling. Given that the coronavirus situation has limited the possibility of face-to-face meetings, video conferencing can help with noticing any changes in appearance, general mood, body language etc.

Encourage – There are many actions employers can take to encourage a culture of compassion within the workplace. For example, having regular meetings where people are encouraged to share not only work achievements, but mistakes as well, will make workplaces safe for learning; formally recognsing acts of compassion at work will engender more generosity of spirit and having leaders role-model their own vulnerability will create an atmosphere of safety and trust.