Compassion and Performance at the time of COVID-19

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. .. it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Rahm Emanuel  

Compassion and high performance rarely appear in the same business sentence. Yet leadership/management research and experience shows that people who are happy at work engage more and deliver higher performance. Stress often works against this. When the rubber hits the road, many businesses sacrifice compassion for performance. It doesn’t have to be like this. We can do things we didn’t think we could do before. 

As business communities, our duty of care is to show compassion in two directions, concurrently:

  1. to support the economy, to ensure business continuity during and for the post-COVID-19 reality.
  2. to show compassion to our employees, and through them to their families and the communities of which they are a part; to look after our employees as we hope governments will look after business, especially industries devastated by the crisis (e.g. airlines, hospitality/leisure, events).

In the face of COVID-19, on Friday March 20th, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer said, after announcing an unprecedented salary support package; “Now, more than any time in our recent history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion… individual acts of kindness we show one another.” He ended by saying “We want to look back on this time and remember how, in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort - and we stood together. It’s on all of us.” I would add: on all of us – as individuals, teams and groups.

So, what can we do practically to not let this serious crisis go to waste, that we didn’t think possible before? Two suggestions – that marry compassion for the economy with compassion for employees:

  1. Keep team members connected. Using a virtual platform (Zoom, Skype, Webex), schedule set times, once/twice/several times a week, for the team to connect. This will keep the purpose of the team in clear focus, especially as that will be challenged in this altered time. It will maintain collaboration and transparency of decision-making, which if anything has accelerated in the last 5 working days. It will refresh a sense of commitment and belonging. It will give opportunity to articulate and fold learning into how you do things in this very dynamic economic context.
  2. Create virtual hubs for employees who have been furloughed. Talent was in short supply before COVID-19. It may be in even shorter supply after COVID-19 (and there will be an “after”) for those organisations that show little compassion for their employees in this challenging time.

The human need to belong is strong. So too are the human needs for certainty, for autonomy. All three have been stripped from many colleagues through the combined tsunamis of reduced or temporarily terminated employment, social distancing and self-isolation. We have an opportunity to create a new sense of belonging, to support the mental health of the nations, to maintain and grow the capacity and capability of our people, to keep the potential for social disruption at bay.

Bonus thought: Trust requires reciprocal altruism. This, reciprocal altruism, is the basis to any social group. (Even vampire bats share blood in scarcity.) What can we as businesses altruistically extend to our employees? What can we hope they would in turn altruistically extend to the business /organisation? We also need to feel needed/useful as human beings. What can you do to help your people continue to feel needed, useful?

This is an extraordinary time for humanity to shine – with compassion for each other and compassion for the economy

Open for business! Assuring you of my highest attention - at all times! Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone (https://www.linkedin.com/in/coralynnheimerrathbone/