Over the last few months, I’ve asked a lot of business owners, managers, and employees whether they think there is a place for compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love in the workplace.
Employees, as you might expect, are quicker to say yes. Managers and owners take longer to respond but ultimately agree that they do belong there. Overall, though, it’s pretty clear that this sort of thing is rarely considered or discussed in the work place. Well, why would it be? Work’s “work,” right? You go to work. You do “stuff.” It’s no place for touchy-feely gooiness.
But I’d like us to consider otherwise. What really brings home the value of these virtues is thinking about the opposite of each of them – and then asking yourself if you want THOSE in your workplace. So, therefore, there can be compassion between management and employees – or there could be cold-hearted indifference. I think we can agree that we all would want compassion. There can be kindness – or cruelty. There can be humility – or there can be arrogance, or egotistical or prideful behavior. There can be patience – or frustration and anxiety-provoking behavior. There can be gentleness – or harshness. Forgiveness – or holding grudges, bitterness and resentment. Love – or selfish, self-serving behaviors and hate.
I think it’s clear what we’d want. This does not mean that managers and owners can’t set the highest standards for performance and conduct, and hold people accountable to those standards. They can and should. But I think it’s worthwhile for business owners and managers to spend some time thinking about these attributes, their role in the workplace, and how they affect performance. And then fostering an environment where they can exist and flourish.
Interestingly, there’s been a lot of study on this issue recently. You’ve probably heard it referred to as “employee engagement,” and it has to do with where employees decide to devote their discretionary effort. These studies say that an actively engaged employee is three times more productive than an actively disengaged one. This has attracted the attention of businesses as a way to increase profits. And studies clearly demonstrate that a higher ratio of actively engaged employees to actively disengaged employees improves profits. But I would say that putting a focus on employee engagement in order to increase profits is the wrong focus. I would say, instead, to focus on doing what is right for the employee simply because it is the right thing to do; virtue for virtue’s sake. If you do that, they will sense your sincerity and naturally become and stay actively engaged – and then the profits follow.
Why do profits follow? Think of a company as a row boat. Actively engaged employees are rowing hard. Disengaged employees are sitting on the bench, as passengers. And actively disengaged employees are drilling holes in the boat. Studies show that an actively engaged worker does about 12 hours of work in an eight-hour day, because they’re choosing to use their discretionary time to work hard and do more; a disengaged employee produces six to eight hours of work in an eight-hour day; and an actively disengaged worker produces about four hours of work per eight hours. That discrepancy represents a huge impact on the bottom line.
How do we know – and ensure – that we have a staff full of actively engaged employees?
The number one driver of employee engagement is how workers answers one simple question: Does management care about me? If employees feel valued (their worth), appreciated (their reward) and heard (their opinion), they’ll be “all in.” Another large factor is whether corporate leadership models the values they profess to adhere to. If leaders say one thing and do another, that undermines everything.
Given the fact that a recent study indicated that 71% of employees in the US are disengaged or actively disengaged, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got some work to do. Personally, I have a great passion for the subject of workplace culture, so we’ll most certainly be exploring this more in future blog posts.