Employee retention and happiness is often a top priority for many organizations. In today’s job market, a low turnover rate has become more critical—and more difficult—than ever.
To keep their teams intact, employers increasingly rely on professional growth, salary, benefits, and even foosball tables to earn long-lasting loyalty. However, as great as these perks are, these days, they are simply a ticket to the game. The modern workplace must-haves.
Ok. Maybe not the foosball table. But, if the other essentials aren’t enough, how can a company succeed at holding onto their best people? According to Leah Weiss, Ph.D., retention really starts with a company that prioritizes kindness, compassion, and empathy—most notably from those on top.
As a Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer, researcher, and author of How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind, Leah has focused her studies on compassionate leadership, and the positive effect it has on organizations. She also helped to develop Stanford's Compassion Cultivation Training, which was initially conceived by the Dalai Lama.
Through Leah's discoveries and research, find out why simple acts of kindness within the workplace decrease turnover, increase loyalty, and can even boost your bottom line.
A More Compassionate Company Culture
"The costs of an organization where people are not deeply committed [to compassion] far outweigh what the investment would have been to help." — Leah Weiss, PhD
Most organizations do strive to show their team appreciation. Maybe it’s shown in the form of holiday parties, happy hours, or bonus programs. These symbols of gratitude are wonderful, but is it truly showing compassion? Or, are these perks merely fill-ins for more authentic human connections?
Too often, leaders are so busy that they fail to genuinely acknowledge their employees’ real emotions. "It's a common mistake," says Leah. "It's a very human mistake, but it is not a smart mistake to make as a leader."
By failing to recognize those emotions, it won't be long until team members flee to a company that actually treats them like people. "They're going to rethink all the times they stayed late, put in time on the weekend, and gave it their all," Leah says. "But at the moment they need you, you're not there."
They gave you loyalty. Where's yours?
It's pivotal for leaders to show authenticity, empathy, and compassion towards every person that they lead. Engage in honest conversations. Support your employees during difficult times. Show some flexibility. These small gestures on your part can mean everything.
"If you don't extend resources to them to support them," says Leah, "They're going to have an experience of you as a leader—and of your organization—that's negative."
Especially in today's connected world, we all know how easy it is for criticism to spread fast. Once word gets around that your company doesn't reciprocate loyalty, expect for engagement, retention, and your overall reputation to sink.
"You can skip over [compassion] and say, 'I don't have time to worry about all this,'" Leah says. "But it's going to come back and bite you."
Start Integrating Empathy into the Workplace
Be kind to your employees. Easy enough, right?
Not necessarily—especially if your goal is to incorporate these practices throughout your company and make it last. This will take intention, thought, and time.
First off, clarify your intentions. Why do you want to create a more compassionate work culture? Just like every leader, team, and business differs, so too will this answer. "It's easy to say I'm too busy to touch base with intention," says Leah, "but cut that corner at your own peril. If you don't have clarity about your plans, how can you know where you're going?"
Leah suggests checking in with your values surrounding compassion and empathy. "How have they played out in your history and narrative," she says? "What do we feel like when we're out of alignment with our values physically, mentally, and emotionally?"
Use these observations as fuel when making decisions regarding compassion. By looking back and within, you can tap into your own emotions. How did you feel when faced with a similar obstacle? What did your superiors do? Should you handle it differently?
Next, take a step back and focus on your company's true purpose. "We need a purpose to be healthy and happy," says Leah. "It's not a nice-to-have. It's a must-have."
She uses the healthcare industry as an example. There, the purpose isn't about prescribing medications, taking measurements, or booking appointments. It's about helping patients live happier and healthier lives.
Once again, it goes back to finding compassion for other people.
This takes reminding your team, and yourself, about your company's purpose. Typically, this involves bringing empathy into the bigger picture. What does your business do to make your customers’ lives even just a little bit better? How does each individual contribute to making this a reality?
With a reinvigorated sense of purpose, expect you and your team will feel more engaged than ever.
Spend More Time With Yourself
Compassionate leadership isn't always easy. Life gets stressful. Sometimes, extending compassion does feel like too much to handle.
That being said, as leaders, our actions matter. We must mentally and physically show up for our team as often as possible. And by caring for ourselves, we can be at our best in caring for others.
Leah says silence, space, and introspection are her three favorite ways to periodically unplug from her daily rigors and gift valuable time to herself.
"I think silence is the most under-appreciated resource, especially in a time when we're so busy," she says. "There's constant pressure to consume and stay on top of information. We need to be aware of the power of attending to our inner experience with greater intimacy and precision."
But if you're not used to regularly checking in with yourself, where do you begin?
Leah suggests finding a few minutes during the day—perhaps first thing in the morning, while exercising, or on the commute home—to power every device off and reflect inwards without distraction.
If you prefer something more structured, meditation is also an incredible practice that more high-level leaders like Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, and Marc Benioff have embraced. Thanks to apps like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer, it's easier than ever to start a meditation practice of your own.
Leah also suggests trying a mindful meditation retreat. Unlike a daily meditation practice, retreats allow for participants to fully escape from the world's distractions and immerse themselves in mindfulness. It's the best way to give your mind the uninterrupted space to think, reflect, and grow.
"Instead of filling up space with noise and input," Leah says, "you can start to see what's happening. You're more aware of your own physical, emotional, and cognitive patterns." Then, you can take everything you've discovered, bring it home, and use it when it matters most.
She recognizes that retreats, meditation practices, and self-care can require personal and financial investments—something that already causes many leaders anxiety. "But," she says, "part of us knows we need them, and they might benefit us massively."
Even if you're still on the fence, why not take a chance and give it a try?
"Take it as an experiment," Leah says. "Do the thing and thoughtfully put everything you can into it. Then, reflect on whether it was worth it. Maybe it will be a one-time experiment.
"Or maybe it'll unlock a whole set of life experiences that you would've otherwise denied yourself."
You'll learn more about how she started studying kindness and compassion, what other leadership strategies she loves, why compassion can make you physically healthier and so much more.