Compassionate — To Be or Not To Be

Jun 13th, 2017 | By | Category: Commentary

Jeff Hough

By Jeff Hough

A client’s question, “How do I balance compassion for an employee, with the needs of my business?” stumped me for a while. The business owner had an employee going through a personal rough spot that was beginning to impact professional life. Complicating the situation was the fact that the employee had been a solid performer for many years and the recent problems seemed to be dragging on.

Such employee stress is a rising problem. One employee assistance company sites a 10 percent increase in stress-related calls over the previous year. The combination of pressures at work and the uncertainty of the recession has pushed many employees to the edge of their coping skills. For many people in this position, time away from work is their only coping mechanism.

In 2013, employee absenteeism cost companies roughly $84 billion in lost productivity. The report, According to Absenteeism: The Bottom-Line Killer by Circadian, states unscheduled absenteeism costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 for salaried employees.

Typically, American businesses have leaned towards hard-charging, full-steam-ahead management. If you can’t keep up, you’re cast aside and someone is brought in to take your place. This mentality contributes to the stress many employees feel, especially when their personal lives aren’t going smoothly.

How does an employer balance the needs of the employees against the needs of the business? In 2009, Appletree Answering Service was a typical call center company, employing over 600 people in 22 locations.

Like other companies in their industry, they experienced an annual turnover rate of 100 percent. Their CEO, John Ratliff, decided that it was time to make a change and looked for radical ways to improve employee retention.

He began the “Dream On” campaign which mimicked the “Make-A-Wish” program, but applied it only to internal employees. The program took off quickly, with the company granting wishes to several of its employees who were in need. Within six months, the company’s turnover rate dropped to a staggering 33 percent, saving an estimated $1 million in hiring and training costs.

Not every company can afford a Dream On program, nor would it work for every company. However, there are things that every employer can do to show compassion for their employees while building a more committed workforce.

First, an employer can be flexible to find a balance between work and life. If scheduling permits, flexibility with work hours is a huge benefit. Technology— especially for those in the knowledge-worker fields — has led many people to lead integrated lives.

By choice, I am constantly checking emails and reading work-related things on my mobile devices away from the office. This integration has allowed me greater productivity when I am in the office. Yet it has given me the flexibility not to be always chained to a desk.

Second, employers can communicate with their employees. When employers see employees whose productivity is beginning to dip, it may be time to pull them aside to find out how things are going. Proactively addressing potentially stressful situations helps reduce employee stress and gives managers a better feel for how to manage the situation.

It is difficult deciding where to draw the line in the sand between productivity and compassion, but a line must be drawn. Having the difficult conversation about personal life and professional performance is essential to reduce stress and productivity loss. Employees need to trust managers to show compassion for unusual situations. And employers need to trust that employees won’t take advantage of their compassion.

Developing such trust leads to clear communication about problems, expectations and performance that alleviates much of the stress surrounding compassion at work.

While every situation is different and it is easy for managers to get tired of all the “drama” in their employees lives, compassion is important for building morale and loyalty.

Jeff Hough is a business author, blogger and speaker in Pocatello.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Comment