Compassion, Resilience and the New Workplace


Like many of you, I have been engaged in daily discussions about what it means to be a compassionate and resilient leader. These are not new conversations and yet they have a different context as we emerge from the pandemic.


As with any tragedy, there is a human need to find the learning, any upside to the grief and trauma, and something to cling onto as a way to move forward. I think one of these is the greater understanding and acceptance of compassion in the workplace. Compassion, as one pillar of resilience (see book Resilient by Rick Hanson, PhD for more) together with mindfulness, gratitude and other practices - has emerged as a necessary leadership competency.


Compassion, when applied to leadership, shows up in powerful ways. For example, extending trust to employees working from home has been a huge stretch for some leaders who question the impact on productivity. Staff meetings interrupted by children and pets (often running past the Zoom screen) have become commonplace. Laughing at casual wardrobes , messed hair styles, and meals eaten on-screen have added fun and color to our days. I have admired artwork, books on shelves, lamps, and kitchen cabinets. Even the most stalwart leaders have had to “loosen up” about workplace norms when the workplace is our home office, bedroom, dining room, or back porch. While many of us have not been physically in the office together, we have experienced each other’s’ presence in more intimate ways than ever before, through the Zoom screen. With this expanded view into people's lives, leaders can gain more insight on how to support their employees.


In the “old” workplace, employees (including leaders) were able to compartmentalize more easily, hide their stress, or even grief in plain sight. Leaders made a choice to engage on a personal level or not. In today's remote or hybrid environment, it is ironically, harder to do. Connected, compassionate leaders acknowledge that along with the normal stress of work life, employees are also managing the risk of unpredictable, and often severe physical illness.


A profound shift and attunement with the "new workplace", requires leaders to go deeper and show up with more compassion and vulnerability. This can be a huge differentiator and contribute to higher levels of job satisfaction, employee engagement, and talent retention. What does this look like? There are some simple daily practices that any leader can easily embrace. For example, normalizing self-care by modeling it themselves and encouraging employees to take a break for a mid-day walk, yoga, or another activity. Sharing their own pandemic story and bringing the trauma of the pandemic to light in one-on-one check-ins, staff meetings or other gatherings, can create safe spaces for people to be vulnerable and share their experiences. Flexible time off, to support mental health and well-being is another way to support employees' resilience practices.


As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic (hopefully), many of us will have the choice to remain remote. Others have already returned or will soon be negotiating a return to an in-person workplace. Whether remote, in-person, or hybrid, the workplace is forever changed. Work and the workplace are being redefined. This unwanted "pandemic intervention" has given us a chance to pause, and the opportunity to think about how we show up for work, how we relate to others with compassion, presence, and vulnerability, the structure our day, how we attend to our families, and how we support our own health and well-being.


What one thing have you learned in the last two years that will help you stay compassionate and present? What one strategy or new habit will you bring forward to support your resilience in the coming weeks and months, as we enter this next phase of work?


Two of my favorite books related to this topic:


Rising Strong, How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown, PhD, MSW

Resilient, How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, by Rick Hanson, PhD