Compassion competence is an emergent pattern of collective noticing in a generous way, collective feeling and collective acting to alleviate someone’s suffering. ~Sally Maitlis
Compassion is still kind of a new concept in the workplace. Many of us still ascribe to the “work ethic” expectation of the early industrial revolution years. Always show up for work, regardless of how you feel. I can’t count the number of times I went to work with a cold and subsequently accomplished very little other than sharing my germs with all of those around me. But that was the mentality and the culture. While I believe the pandemic may have helped us rethink that logic about our physical health, I’m not as confident that we’ve done as well with our expectations around our mental health.
Part of shifting our paradigm about mental health in the workplace is to think and act with more compassion. Fortunately, compassion competence is something that can be developed.
The basics tenets of compassion competence is simply to notice and to act. As Adam Grant said, it’s “common sense, but not common practice.” Also, note Maitlis’ definition that it’s not to fix someone but to alleviate their suffering.
As is stated frequently, in the U.S. almost half of adults (46.4 percent) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. Greenway Therapy points out, “that number only accounts for diagnosed mental illness but not for simply needing some support to get through a bit of life muck. The human need for support is 100%.”
What does noticing and responding to others’ pain look like?
Compassion competence from a policy perspective
- Give people Fridays (or a day) off to spend time with loved ones and to recharge
- Offer free, private counseling sessions
- It’s okay to call in sick, and it’s okay to call in sad too
Compassion competence from a practice perspective
- Dedicate a portion of a weekly huddle to emotional support
- Schedule a monthly team check-in to see how people are doing (emotional acknowledgement)
- Notice and mention another person’s emotional state. It may start with paying attention when a coworker’s responsiveness dips or an employee’s mood lags.
- Leaders show their own vulnerability. When leaders model that it’s ok to struggle, that makes it okay for others to ask for help.
- Create a culture where employees feel safe enough to share how they’re feeling and not be judged for it. And know that the result of doing so is actually going to result in support. Colleagues may step in and say, Hey, I got your back. Or, the boss might say, okay, let’s find another way to get this done.
Lead with bold grace and find one way to demonstrate compassion competence this week.