A recent opinion piece by Eileen Chadnick in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper caught my eye: Humanity, connection, and compassion – the keys to bringing staff back to the office successfully. It reminded the reader of what we already know – that everyone, staff and supervisors, are burned out from the isolation and stress caused by working remotely during the pandemic and that there are reasons why people are reluctant to return to the office. The article argued for the need to focus on providing work environments that proactively encourage connectedness among employees (a friendly workplace) and prioritize compassion as an important ingredient of a successful office culture. In other words, people-centred leadership has never been more important. Everyone needs to feel valued; everyone needs to feel that they are part of a work environment that makes them feel part of a team, of a community. Bottom line: if employees don’t feel that way, they’ll be happier working online in their basements, or worse, looking for another job.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I fully support that approach. I was very lucky to have spent most of my work life feeling very much part of a community, where we were all contributing to something larger than ourselves. Feeling that you belong. That’s precisely what kept me motivated.
The question I have to ask is: why don’t we expect this approach of humanity, connectedness, and compassion from our political leaders? We raise our kids to try to get along with everyone, to not exclude some kids or be mean to others – or at least that’s what we should be doing. We certainly have every right to expect that kind of welcoming environment in the workplace – at least if we want to keep employees from seeking employment elsewhere these days. Yet our political systems are set up to lob insults and “lies” at the other “side”. Getting the vote and staying in power is the #1 priority, and working to make things better for the people they were elected to serve seems to come second, sometimes a very low second.
I know there is nothing new in this scenario, but these are unusual times. The most unusual in our lifetime. We are witnessing an inflection point in history, or maybe it would be more appropriate to say multiple inflection points. These few year we’ve been living through – say from 2016 until … a few more years maybe – are going to consume more than one chapter in history books in the decades to come. Let’s think about just how many recent world events have turned our expectations upside down.
- A global pandemic of unprecedented proportions shut down schools and workplaces for face-to-face learning and work around the world … for extraordinarily long periods of time.
- The pandemic disrupted travel and tourism for extended periods of time. It disrupted and in many case was the death knell for many small businesses (restaurants, storefront retail, etc.)
- The pandemic shone a light on the inadequacy of hospital services in most places.
- Widespread staff shortages. Coming out of the pandemic, there aren’t enough people to staff many businesses trying to ramp up to pre-pandemic levels. This ranges from the airline industry to hospital staff to neighbourhood donut shops.
- Geopolitics has taken a disturbing turn for the worse. The stakes (aka military posturing and far, far worse) have been raised considerably. It turns out that people with power would rather stay in power and even extend their reach rather than get along with each other, the lives of millions and millions of people be damned.
- Nationalism – aka racism and fomenting distrust and hatred of “others” – is being pushed in more and more places. As is the accompanying force of extremism. And it’s being fed by leaders with frighteningly authoritarian streaks, including in countries whose citizens have long valued their democracy. This is concerning in the extreme.
- Climate change isn’t just a threat anymore, it’s a bloody frightening reality. Floods. Wildfires. Unprecedented droughts. Dry lakebeds and rivers. Extreme heat waves. Rising sea levels. What good does saving jobs in the fossil fuel industry do if we don’t have a planet left to live in or in which to be able to grow food?
- The Supreme Court of the richest country in the world – the one that for a few decades was considered to lead the “free world” with its “moral authority” – has set back women’s health and welfare in that country by 50 years. WTF.
- The UK government has paid Rwanda, a poor country in the middle of Africa, a handsome sum of money to receive asylum seekers that the UK doesn’t want. The mind boggles.
- Inflation is hitting unprecedented levels around the world, and there seems to be more concern about who or what to blame than to work together to help those who will bear the brunt, namely working class people everywhere.
I could list more, but hopefully you get the point. At a time when the world has so much to recover from as we make our way out of the pandemic, surely we’d be far better off if our political leaders were following the workplace suggestions in the opinion piece in the Globe and Mail: encourage connectedness and lead with compassion.
Yes, we can all do that ourselves as well, and we should. Big time. It’s not only good for those we interact with, it’s good for our own mental health. It’s how we ordinary mortals can make our way in this world where so many in charge seem to have forgotten the importance of kindness. But individuals alone can’t make the changes needed.
Eileen Chadnick’s article ends by saying, “Humanity at work calls for courage, authenticity, and generosity.” Surely we should expect that from all our governments as well. Never more so than at this unsettling inflection point in history.