Fostering Success: The Power of Compassionate Workplaces

Compassionate Workplaces

Interview with Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco 

Bruno Cignacco, author of The Art of Compassionate Business, delves into the transformative power of nurturing a supportive and caring workplace, highlighting how such environments not only boost employee morale and creativity but also significantly contribute to a company’s success. 

In the second edition of your new book The Art of Compassionate Business, you talked about the importance of developing a supportive and caring workplace. Could you please elaborate this idea? 

This is a very important question. There is a lot of research that concluded that a supportive and caring workplace brings about very positive outcomes: increased employee satisfaction, decreased absenteeism, lower stress levels, and lessened turnover. In these workplaces, employees are happier, which prompts them to serve customers in a more effective manner. All these indicators bring about a positive impact on the bottom line. 

In caring workplaces, there is psychological safety. In psychologically safe workplaces, employees can express their ideas freely, without the fear of being punished. Employees are not harshly penalised when they make mistakes. In addition, staff members feel free to give others constructive feedback, even their superiors. In these work environments, experimentation is fostered, which often prompts staff members to develop creative ideas, which can lead to innovative products, services, or processes. 

Caring and supportive workplaces are never fear-laden. Employees feel at ease; they can be themselves, and communicate with each other in a free and meaningful way. In these workplaces, people tend to be more productive, as they are not continually harassed by stress factors, such as multiple deadlines, multitasking, etc. 

Staff members are beset by different types of fear (e.g., fear of being fired, fear of making mistakes, fear of having dissenting opinions, fear of being outpaced by colleagues, fear of sharing information with others, etc.).

Unfortunately, over 30 years in my role as a consultant, I have often seen the opposite, which is organisations that are fear-driven. In these fear-based companies, staff members are beset by different types of fear (e.g., fear of being fired, fear of making mistakes, fear of having dissenting opinions, fear of being outpaced by colleagues, fear of sharing information with others, etc.). These fearful employees adopt a reactive attitude toward others, such that their discerning skills (creativity, critical analysis, etc.) are temporarily impaired. 

Conversely, in psychologically safe workplaces, people are prone to trusting each other; they are also more prone to cooperating and sharing relevant resources (e.g., information) with others. In these supportive and caring work environments, staff members purposely discourage the negative side of organisational politics at work. These aspects of politics include one-upmanship, favouritism, turf wars, and slandering, among others. In addition, in psychologically safe workplaces, employees adopt a compassionate attitude towards each other. These employees are also compassionate with other stakeholders (e.g., customers, suppliers, etc.). Compassionate employees understand how others feel and think, and try to support them when they face challenging situations. 

In your new book, you have included very profuse research on this topic. According to this research, what are the main characteristics of a supportive workplace?  

In supportive and caring workplaces, quantitative aspects of business are important. These aspects include, for instance, profits, market share, sales, productivity, and others. These aspects can be measured precisely. Companies often set up quantifiable objectives and develop precise strategies to address these aspects. However, in supportive workplaces, qualitative aspects of business are equally important. These include, for instance, camaraderie, support, care, compassion, generosity, gratitude, and others. These qualitative aspects cannot be measured precisely, but they are important, as they contribute to the development of strong, long-lasting relationships between colleagues and with other stakeholders. According to research, other characteristics of supportive and caring workplaces are: 

  • Employees feel appreciated for their contribution to the company. Managers often show their appreciation to their subordinates in different ways (e.g., personalised thank-you letters, social events to celebrate employees’ achievements, newsletters to highlight employees’ valuable contributions to the company, etc.). 
  • In supportive workplaces, staff members do not feel pressurised; instead, they can work on relevant tasks at a pace that they can comfortably manage. In that sense, these employees are allowed to have a good work-life balance, which means that they are not pressured into overworking or reducing the time they devote to their non-work activities (e.g., family, friends, hobbies, etc.). Consequently, employees are less prone to becoming stressed at work. 
  • Employees are empowered to act in the best way possible according to their own unique experience and expertise. Consequently, in supportive and caring workplaces, the delegation of tasks to subordinates by superiors is widespread. When these superiors delegate tasks, they avoid micromanaging employees, but instead trust these staff members’ competence and capabilities. 
  • In supportive workplaces, employees are encouraged to look for creative ways to solve challenging business issues. Sometimes, these employees can participate in creative meetings (e.g., brainstorming sessions) where they can express their ideas freely. At other times, employees are encouraged to provide the company with creative insights, through surveys or suggestion boxes. 

This advice is very insightful and actionable. What are other traits of a supportive workplace that you have included in your new book?  

Employees are supported in the development of their own skills in different ways: coaching and mentoring programmes, shadowing, on-the-job training, and others.

In caring and supportive workplaces, companies also try to assign tasks to employees in accordance to these employees’ unique skills and capabilities. These companies prompt their staff members to complete a strengths assessment in order to discover their unique capabilities. Employees are supported in the development of their own skills in different ways: coaching and mentoring programmes, shadowing, on-the-job training, and others. They are also empowered to develop new skills, for instance, through job rotation, seminars, workshops, etc. In my new book, I discuss other traits of caring and supportive workplaces, as follows: 

  • These employees are generous with their colleagues and other stakeholders (e.g., customers). In such workplaces, people are keen to give both tangible and intangible things to others. For instance, a manager can provide subordinates with bonuses (tangible thing) for their unconditional contributions to the company’s projects. Managers can also provide these subordinates with intangible things, such as advice, thanks, support, technical information, training, etc. 
  • In supportive and caring workplaces, employees are recognised as individuals with multiple needs which require to be satisfied. Employees have economic needs (e.g., a good salary), mental needs (e.g., participating in mentally stimulating projects), emotional needs (e.g., being appreciated and valued by others), and social needs (e.g., participating in collective business endeavours), among others. 
  • In these workplaces, employees have sufficient time to talk about business topics (e.g., plans, budget, etc.) and non-business topics (e.g., health issues or family problems). These staff members can talk about the latter topics in informal chats with others at work. They are acknowledged as valuable human beings, beyond their formal work roles.  
  • Employees are more likely to feel fulfilled, because they clearly know they are positively contributing to the company’s mission in a valuable way. They feel that they count, that the tasks they perform are of high value. In these work environments, employees are clearly and regularly shown how their daily activities support the organisation’s purpose in a meaningful manner. 
  • In these caring and supportive work environments, people naturally abide by lofty values, such as integrity, care, transparency, benevolence, kindness, and respectfulness. These workplaces are inclusive and diverse, so that people with various beliefs, cultural backgrounds, religions, age, and other personal characteristics feel respectfully acknowledged, recognised, and welcomed. Their unique traits are overtly valued and appreciated.  
  • In these workplaces, employees are encouraged to participate regular non-work activities (social dinners, nights out, etc.) where they can connect to each other on a more personal level. At such events, staff members can let their hair down and develop more robust bonds with their colleagues. These events are often de-stressing and refreshing for employees. Afterwards, staff members are more likely to come back to work more refreshed, and with more insightful ideas. 

Lastly, what are additional tips to develop a more supportive and caring workplace? 

My most valuable piece of advice is that people at work should regularly ask themselves relevant self-reflection questions. Some examples of these questions are: 

  • How can I make people at work feel they count? 
  • How can I treat others at work in a kind, respectful, and supportive manner? 
  • How can I be more grateful and generous with people at work? 
  • How can I acknowledge and meet my colleagues’ multiple needs (e.g., economic, emotional, mental, etc.)? 
  • How can I harness and enhance the unique skills and talents of people at work? 

Executive Profile

Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco 

Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco (PhD) is an international business consultant, TEDx speaker, and researcher. For over 30 years, he has advised and trained hundreds of companies on international trade activities and international marketing. He is a university lecturer and a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA, UK). He is also the author of business and personal development books published in different languages. The second edition of his new book The Art of Compassionate Business is available at  www.routledge.com/9781032445427 His website is www.brunocignacco.com 

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