Are you a compassionate leader?
While I was reading the news, I came across a classic example of lack of compassion in an organisation.
An employee, Toner, needed to take his terminally ill grandmother to hospital for a medical test and there was no one else in his family to do it. Toner was told by his boss that he was required to work on that day and must find an alternative arrangement for his grandmother. Toner decided to resign and leave the organisation.
What’s interesting here is the consequences for the organisation. Let’s look at some:
- Losing talent: Studies (Lilius et al., 2011) show that experiencing compassion reduces staff turnover and increases organisational citizenship. Toner’s case just illustrates that.
- Reputation: The fact that this story ended up in the news means it has damaged the organisation’s reputation. Also, those who were considering joining the organisation may decide to think again.
- Employee engagement: Employees who observe this lack of compassion may think they will be treated the same if they are in a similar situation. This could result in lower engagement. Studies (Lilius et al., 2011) show that employees in a compassionate work environment are happier and more engaged.
But what does it actually mean to ‘be compassionate’? Being compassionate is far more than feeling sympathetic or being kind to someone. Dictionaries define compassion as feeling pity, mercy and sympathy. But being compassionate is far more than feeling sympathetic or being kind to someone. I define compassion as being moved by and feeling sorrow for another person’s suffering and taking action to alleviate the pain felt by that person.
In a new study by Roffey Park on compassion at work we identified a set of attributes a compassionate person exhibits:
- Being alive to the suffering of others: This is about being sensitive to the well-being of colleagues and noticing any changes in their behaviour that might signal that something is amiss.
- Being non-judgmental: A compassionate person does not judge the sufferer and accepts and respect their experience.
- Tolerating personal distress: Hearing about or becoming aware of a colleague’s difficulty may be distressing for a compassionate person, but it does not overwhelm them or stop them from taking action.
- Being empathic: Understanding the sufferer’s pain and feeling it as if it were our own pain.
- Taking appropriate action: Feeling empathic towards a sufferer encourages a compassionate person to take action and do something to help the sufferer.
Lilius, J.M., Kanov, J., Dutton, J., Worline, M.C. and Maitlis, S., 2011. Compassion revealed: What we know about compassion at work (and where we need to know more). Ann Arbor, 1001, p.48109.
Meysam Poorkavoos, Researcher