HOW CAN YOU EXPECT ME TO HAVE TIME TO CARE WHEN I AM BUSY WITH SO MUCH WORK TO DELIVER?
The idea that I should really care about those I work with seems like a “nice idea” but time consuming. Yea sure, it wouldn’t hurt knowing how Carol, the new assistant is settling in, or how Tim’s board presentation went, or even whether Lorna’s (the receptionist) son, got accepted to university. This is all good but would it really be practical? Let’s consider it for a minute; I would love to know how Carol is settling in, and maybe even help her do so. This would be right after she gets me up to speed on the meetings scheduled for the day, the calls I am expected to return before the meetings start, and also reminding me to connect with the stubborn client, who I was supposed to contact a week ago. All this while I am ignoring a call and Dean is asking for the recent revenue data so he can put it in the report for his presentation due end of day. I could go on but you get the point. Listening to my colleagues “out-of work” experiences or even their work challenges in between the daily “putting out fires” is simply not possible. We have made peace with the fact that empathy in the work place is a luxury we can’t afford. In fact, at times I’ve tried showing interest and it backfires – people still don’t always respond and in the end often I am the one ending up hurt, frustrated and felling taken advantage of.
What if the most productive thing I could do was to really start to care about those I work with?
One afternoon I was abruptly stopped in our office hallway by my colleague,Jim, who was irate after meeting with a member of my team. He expressed his frustration as I pulled him into a quiet meeting room to talk. A newer hire, of just over a year, on his team had requested some bereavement time because his father-in-law had passed away. Our Human Resources advisor,Terry, explained to him that as per policy he was entitled to 3 days. The employee needed to travel, attend the funeral and remain for family gatherings; 3 days wouldn’t be enough. Jim was upset as he feared losing the employee, all together in a competitive marketplace. For this reason, Jim preferred that his team member be given more time off. This was met with a little friction from Terry who insisted on policy as was her mandate and to make sure everyone was treated the same. We found ourselves in a classic triangle of policy vs senior leaders’ wants and an employee’s needs. So, who was right and what was the right action to take? Needless to say, my HR Advisor was also frustrated with the demand that the policy be overlooked and this employee be treated differently.
We chatted about why the policy exists and what was beneficial for everyone involved. We articulated the fears, challenges and also the potential wins in this situation. There was the obvious risk that the employee would feel the company didn’t really care, disengage and potentially even quit not to mention developing a reputation of being a heartless company. Jim also felt that he had a committed team player who he had invested considerable resources in, and did not want to risk losing him. The advisor wanted to follow policy as was her mandate. Fundamentally, we all wanted an employee who would stay engaged and continue working for us with the same enthusiasm and commitment he had exhibited over the last year.
These decisions are not always straight forward and by the book. We need to consider the business capacity and needs along with the humanity and care of our people. Management is an art of balancing and integrating both of these into a solution. Given the distance the employee needed to travel, their current performance and our commitment to bringing humanity to the workplace we came to the following conclusions:
1) allow him to decide how much time he needed and asked him to return when he was ready, and
2) pay for his and his spouse’s plane tickets to the funeral.
The initial concerns this raised are real – when you have an unbalanced approach. Won’t he take advantage of more potential time off? Maybe he will quit anyways? Isn’t this costing us more than it needs to?
My experience is no. In this instance, he ended up taking 4 ½ days and came back to work grateful and more engaged and committed than ever. His company acknowledged the personal pain he and his family was experiencing and saw him as more than just an employee with a job to do and responded with care and consequently showed compassion.
It would have been easy to just give the standard, “it’s company policy, there is nothing more we can do” response. That would have saved everyone time and energy, not to mention the awkwardness of having to handle the situation without seeming like you are taking sides or undermining any department. But what would have been the potential impact of this? I can tell you one thing is for sure, dissatisfaction. This is often overlooked since seldom will the employee come forward and express it. Dissatisfaction in employees starts brewing from specific reasons and builds up with time. From an instance such as this, the employee may begin to feel like every decision made, directly or indirectly affecting them, and the company doesn’t care. Obvious outcomes are: less motivation, more complaints, changed attitudes and just general unhappiness in the work place.
Current studies indicate that employees who are happy and feel cared for have an increase in productivity of 12-20%. Disengagement, the cost of not caring, results in 18% decrease in productivity and 16% decline in profitability. Several studies show that employees prefer their well-being over material benefits and that comes from a positive culture where they know they are valued and genuinely cared for by their employer. Knowing this it is safe to say that when you ignore caring for your employees you risk losing the productive benefits that come with a highly committed employee.
So we need to ask ourselves: Do I genuinely care about those I work with? Do I care about their results, growth and development? Or rather the ultimate question here would be;
How do I begin to care at work?
Here are 3 simple things you can start with:
1. Build real relationships with those you work with. This isn’t about developing deep personal relationships where you go camping with coworkers or going on vacations together. Caring at work is essentially about seeing the humanity in others and managing them with compassion. Be curious and learn about them as a professional and person.
2. Develop compassion. We have been taught to step into out workplaces with a mindset of objectivity, professionalism and to be business-like; not personal. There is a lot of current discussion about cognitive-focussed workplaces. Sticking to policies, metrics and objectives is an easy way to justify not acknowledging the humanity of those we work with. Yet, we are humans working with humans. We are relational by nature and part of our make-up is to care about others and without a doubt want to be cared for; no matter how much we try to sanitize it at work. It’s okay to care about the people we work with, for and lead. In fact, contrary to some leaders’ belief that it is a time waster since business is not personal; caring is good business.This begins with an empathetic approach. What do I know about them? Their hopes, challenges, realities of their position. Compassion then invites us to respond with helpfulness.
3. Help. The truth is we are busy at work and have lots of pressure. Genuinely caring about our coworkers and employees can feel like another assignment that takes time,that would otherwise be used in gearing towards the company’s objectives. However, the benefit of engagement, loyalty and productivity quickly changes this myth.Our influence with people doesn’t emanate from demanding more work or getting status updates on projects; which are all important. Our influence stems from them knowing we care about their success, growth, ideas, contributions and overall value. This cannot be faked. We all know when we are being played or when people are pretending to care.So we have to actually care. Authour Adam Grant in his book, Give and Take, says that two of the leading indicators for effective teams and organizational performance is leader kindness and generosity. It’s time we move from managing strictly from our head, and integrate with our heart to inform our leadership as well.
When I genuinely care about others something remarkable happens. They become more open, are more responsive, engage and work harder, and I gain a deeper understanding of what makes my team members tick and how I can become part of the solution and no longer the problem.
Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller states that 88% of all employees in the US feel they work for an organization that doesn’t care about them. Workplace cultures that are positive and caring create happy, engaged, loyal and highly productive workers.
We all respond to people in our lives who care about us. Friends, coaches, mentors, partners and yes, employers.
Bringing our humanity to work is the only way we will propel organizational prosperity and find the prosperous balance between care and capacity.
Jeff is the founder of Magnanimous People Strategies, a firm dedicated to bridging Purpose and People with Productivity and Profit to create competent and caring driven organizations in both the for profit and not for profit sectors.