What better day to talk about love in the workplace than Valentine’s Day? The day when we profess our undying love for the focus of our affection; we can choose to keep our identity a secret or reveal all; we wear our hearts on our sleeve and chance rejection. We take that risk in the name of love.
The workplace can be a minefield to navigate. There are different ‘tribes’; power dynamics and unsaid rules. It often takes courage to say what you really think; stand up for what you believe in and wear your heart on your sleeve. The question is why? Why do you sometimes feel psychologically unsafe if you speak out? Why are diverse views shied away from rather than encouraged? I can’t profess to fully know the answers to these questions, but I do suspect that it stems from a need to belong and our tribal instincts kicking in. This can lead to bad behaviour; exclusion and a general lack of compassion towards our workmates. There’s an interesting Switch and Shift article on this if you want to read more.
So, if it’s an innate part of us, how do we get more love and compassion into the workplace?
Well to me it’s about appreciating what others have to offer. There’s an old African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This sums it up for me. Often we are imbibed with a sense of urgency; short deadlines; stretching targets and the volume of work and weight of expectations is ever increasing. Naturally, this gives us a tendency to lean towards the ‘going fast’. Other people, who may have a valid, but different point of view, could slow us down, and we haven’t got the time to ‘bring them round to our way of thinking’ so instead, divergent views are at best ignored or worse ridiculed and those offering them made to feel inferior or stupid.
Over time, divergent views stop being offered, which gives rise to a different challenge, that of ‘groupthink’. This was described by ACCA in their December 2015 article on the need to diversify Boards as a “psychological behaviour of minimising conflict and reaching consensus without critically evaluating alternative ideas.” Often this is found in highly regulated, performance target-led environments such as banking and healthcare.
The predominant leadership style in the NHS is ‘pace setting’(1) . At first glance this sounds like a style that would get results; sets high performance standards whilst exemplifying delivery themselves; however over time it can have detrimental impact as it depersonalises the work environment, making it all about hitting the targets whilst forgetting about the human aspects.
In healthcare, we talk a lot about the need for compassionate care but often we overlook the need to have compassion in our everyday interactions with our colleagues. We need a more human touch in the workplace. To me this includes treating others as you would want to be treated and showing compassion in meetings as much as on the wards. It also means having honest conversations with people, especially if they are not performing as expected, rather than avoiding the difficult issues and potential conflict and then letting things escalate, potentially leading to festering resentment.
To summarise I think compassion in the workplace involves the following three aspects:
1. Treating people as individuals – acknowledging we are all different and have divergent views and opinions. Building relationships and trust on this basis and being as open and honest as possible.
2. Being open and honest – it’s often much easier to develop a ‘parent/ child’ relationship between manager and staff member than it is to have an adult to adult relationship (2) . Having honest conversations and being open when things are not going as well they might takes quite a lot of courage for some managers. It is far easier to not address issues but this just builds ill will over time. Voicing your opinion and being true to yourself, colleagues and staff, will enable a much more positive and transparent environment.
3. Valuing others’ opinion – as well as voicing your own opinion, allowing others to voice theirs without immediately responding or trying to bring people round to your way of thinking. Often this is more difficult than it sounds, but really listening to other people and opening your mind to other possibilities is the key to working with colleagues from different professional backgrounds, organisations and industries. Working out how to collaborate and work through the net benefit, so there is a shared and collective understanding and an agreed way forward, takes real skill.
I think if we all listen a little more; talk a little less and think of the person in front of us as a fellow human being, we might just start to get a little more love in the workplace.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
1 Leadership that gets results; Daniel Goleman; Harvard Business Review; March 2000.
2.Eric Berne; Transactional analysis (parent, adult, child model); 1957.
About the author
Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and a passionate advocate of creating conditions in the workplace to enable creativity and innovation to flourish