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Is There Room For Compassion In The Workplace?

Everyday there are new stories or research reported about the insanity of the workplace and the unethical behavior of executives. Everyone is effected by this: workers, consumers, companies, boards, industry sectors, well intentioned executives. The deterioration of honesty, moral compasses and just plain human decency has torn away at the very essence of so many corporate settings. So we are now living in a world where we go to work each morning not trusting our leaders or colleagues, come home to the evening news where we don’t trust our political leaders, where our neighbors settle common disputes with lawsuits and our children are learning all about not being a bully.

This is absolutely insane. We live on the dark side now and no amount of meditation or exercise can rid us of the stress of these types of environments. In spite of the limited impact of movements to stop climate change or gun violence or economic fairness, I’m thinking that we need to try a workplace movement. How about we make room for compassion at work? How about if we treated each individual with an open mind, respect and consideration? You know, what if we all behaved like mensches? Translation: “An upright, honorable, decent person. Someone of consequence; someone to emulate; of noble character. A personification of worth and dignity, totally trustworthy. Come on, act like a mensch. Now there’s a mensch!” (Leo Rosten)

Let’s get back to being decent human beings who care about each other. Is this so much to ask for? How hard could it be? (said with proper upturned hands, a shoulder shrug and a tone of “come on people”)

Let’s go through the back door to explore this.

  • What devastating impact would it have on profits, competition, results or overall company performance if executives and staff behaved with just a modest amount of human kindness?
  • What is the downside to a corporate culture that actually lives by all those fancy (sic. no-brainer-obvious-ways-of-interacting-with-your-colleagues) values statements embossed on the back of employee ID cards?
  • What harm is created by listening to a colleague’s frustrations or worries or unusual circumstances that impede giving their best everyday?
  • What disaster would befall a CEO who acted with integrity, fairness, respect and concern for the staff? How would this be construed as a career limiting stance?
  • How much time and effort would be taken away from the “important stuff” to smile as you pass people in the hall or congratulate someone on a successful project or ask someone to offer their expertise about something you are working on or reach out to someone who has been laid off and wish them the best?

I mean, really?

I’m not talking kumbaya here. Just good manners. But somewhere between 5 years old (when we learned all those proper behaviors) and 40 years old (when we have been re-socialized) we lost our humanity. Corporate settings have become so cutthroat, internally competitive, deceitful and relentless that even good players have been transformed. Survival of the fittest prevails.

There are mensches all around the building but few are in positions of influence or power.They are the confidantes, mentors and Yodas who do their best work behind closed doors in one-on-one discussions. They listen, guide, offer perspective and send people back out into the lion’s den. When someone needs a fix more frequently than every 4-6 months the mensch will gently inquire about what will make the person happy. It becomes an inevitable discussion. What a mensch can do: offer some individual relief and respect. What a mensch can’t do: change the system.

Research reveals that we return smiles when offered to us, that we get a spring in our step when we are thanked or praised, that we work harder and better when we are positively acknowledged. Conversely when we are treated like shit, we will return that favor too.

My guidance here is very simple. If each of us walked into work each day and committed to just 2-3 acts of human kindness that would start the ripples of a bigger change. We feel better about ourselves, we start to receive better treatment from our colleagues and we make more valuable contributions to the company. These are small moments that add up over time.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not seeing who losses if we make room for compassion at work. Channeling my best yiddish accent: Try it! It couldn’t hoit!

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