Research & Thought Leadership

Compassion makes teams stronger

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To be human is to suffer. Acknowledging this at work can help employees immeasurably when they’re going through hard times.

People embed compassion in an organisation – not an HR mandate. As we approach the holiday season, it is not all festivities and fun for everyone. Christmas can be a difficult and isolating time for some, so we all need to make time for a human moment at work. It is up to us all to be kinder to ourselves and compassionate to others through our actions.

Compassion is fast becoming a business imperative. Companies that embed compassion in their business generate better financial performance, experience higher levels of employee retention, because employees give back when they feel cared for and valued. Gestures of compassion can have great impact on customer advocacy too. Research has shown that customer loyalty is not created by price, promotions or loyalty schemes but by the care shown by the company’s employees. Gallup, for example, measures loyalty in terms of a customer’s ‘emotional attachment’ to a brand.

In consciously compassionate cultures, leaders role-model kindness, and the connections between employees across the organisation are strong. Sadly, these kinds of organisations are only the exception rather than the rule.

Compassion can make our teams stronger and more engaged. Here are eight compassion pointers to consider:


Leaders set the emotional tone in a company. Their behaviours must be congruent with compassion. Leaders who are able to forge deep and trusting relationships with people at all levels in the organisation are seen to prioritise wellbeing over business outcomes.


Among the most common causes of stress at work, management style ranks third, after workload and challenges in our personal lives. Unfortunately, only one in three of us feels genuinely supported by our organisation. Less than half of us would disclose our struggles to our current manager.

Some researchers have suggested that one simple question is required of managers to ensure they bring compassion to their role: how can I help this person to have a better day?


Bear in mind, we are all unique. During times of personal difficulty, managers should be allowed to flex HR policies so people may take time off. If they are treated well, most people will return to work in an acceptable timescale. Otherwise, according to research, employees may question their own commitment to the organisation. It should be HR’s role to support the line manager in being creative with any policies, rather than being seen as ‘the policy police’.


For some people, work can be an important distraction when they are facing personal struggles. By continuing to work, some people find structure and routine in a life otherwise in disarray.

It is especially important to understand that people are unlikely to be performing well in these circumstances. When suffering remains hidden, line managers may be unaware that employees are trying to ‘work through it’. It may be weeks, months or even years before an individual is able to perform at the levels they once did.


If an employee has taken a leave of absence during a period of personal upheaval, it is important that line managers adjust the person’s workload.

Line managers should consider the impact on those who have stepped up, once the individual is back to full capacity. At the same time, managers can use this as an opportunity to coach team members to find out how new roles or projects might be created to match everyone’s strengths and interests.


“It can’t be as bad as all that”; “You’ll get over it”…

Well-meaning colleagues can be harmful in their attempts to provide support to an individual who is going through a difficult time.

Instead of worrying about the ‘right’ words, colleagues should instead be available to listen without judgment as this has been found to greatly support an individual’s healing.


Dealing with employee suffering is a common but complex part of a managerial role. During the grief process, for example, people can behave out of character, so it is important not to criticize. Training courses can help managers with this sort of scenario.


It is vital that managers create the time and space for confidential non-work conversations. Unless there is a safe environment where employees can express their emotions without fear of judgment, suffering can become ‘stifled’. HR may also consider providing employees with access to a named member of staff outside line management with whom they can talk in confidence.

Amy’s new book, The Human Moment argues that compassion is an organisational imperative in the 21st Century. It is aimed at managers who want to find more “human” ways to lead. It’s also for HR professionals and executive coaches looking to support people in the wake of suffering. Additionally, employees working alongside colleagues who are facing a difficult episode in their lives may find this book useful. And finally, individuals themselves who are grappling with the challenges of work or study in the face of suffering may find this book to be a helpful companion. Based on a decade of research and packed with examples and case studies, this book argues that compassion is THE hidden key to business performance.

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