Compassion: A New Management Imperative – Part 1

December 9, 2021 Jason Lauritsen

man looking at laptop with hands on head frustratedAs the summer of 2020 was wrapping up, I knew something wasn’t right.

Despite the fact that I’d somehow miraculously pivoted my business after the pandemic had struck and was, by most accounts, doing well, I was tired. Really tired. And the day-to-day routines of life had begun to feel increasingly like a grind.

Then one afternoon in August I was sitting on the couch with my laptop, trying to get started on a simple project. It was one that I would normally be really excited to work on. But there I sat, staring at my screen, struggling to even start. The excitement I should have felt was nowhere to be found. Something was wrong.

It was around this time that I had a conversation with my friend, Rebecca, and shared how tired I felt. She could see I was struggling. She asked me if I had time coming up in my calendar that I could block off. She suggested that I unplug completely for a few days and take time to just breathe, rest, and watch the sunset each day.

When I mentioned the idea to my wife, knowing full well that my being gone puts an extra burden on her, she was fully supportive. In fact, she encouraged me to find the time soon. It turns out she, too, knew I was struggling and wanted to help.

I know now that I was burned out. As 2020 unfolded and I scrambled to reinvent my business, I hadn’t been caring well for myself. And the consequences of that were real and scary. I was suffering and I needed the people around me to help me find my way back to feeling well again.

I think about this experience often and how fortunate I am to have such wonderful and caring people in my life. Not only was this my first time confronting a mental health issue, but it vividly revealed to me the real impact of diminished well-being.

A new management imperative

It may be tempting as we near the beginning of 2022 to assume that the worst of the pandemic experience is behind us. And while we can only hope this is the case when it comes to infections and deaths around the world, the resulting disruption for employers and employees is far from over.

The next year will be defined by continued change and uncertainty as to the push and pull over when, where, and how we work evolves. This will mean the warm comfort of “returning to normal” will remain elusive.

Based on many of my conversations lately, it seems that people are starting to settle into some new routines. But many are tired. Their stories sound much like mine. They have been busy, working lots of hours. And they haven’t been taking great care of themselves.

They haven’t taken time to recover from this prolonged period of uncertainty and change. I think this is why so many recent polls and surveys show widespread burnout and diminished mental health.

This is a big problem for employers. When well-being is diminished, performance suffers. And this isn’t only true for mental health. We have all had the experience of being sick and trying to work through it. When you are physically ill, it takes twice as long to do poorer quality work.

Well-being, which is a state of human flourishing that allows us to be our best in all areas of our lives, is vital to our ability to perform our best at work (and in all other areas of our lives). And while health is a big part of well-being, it is only one dimension. I’ve outlined in a previous post how well-being is defined and can serve as the blueprint to a human organization. So here, I’ll simply offer you this conclusion.

When our well-being is diminished, we suffer. As a result, our ability to perform suffers.

Whether it’s diminished health, a loss of financial security, a lack of meaning, or an absence of true connection with others, it hurts us and has real consequences.

Thanks to the pandemic, our well-being has been under constant assault for the past year and a half. Given that reality, if we hope to sustain employee performance and retention today and into the next year, we must support employee well-being more effectively than in the past.

One of the most powerful ways to do this is to equip your managers and leaders with a new competency. It’s called compassion.

In next week’s post, we’ll dig into what compassion is and how it works.