How can we bring more compassion into the workplace?

The average person spends 47 years in work, that’s over 100,000 hours. And I wonder how many times over the years they hear or ask the question themselves, ‘How are you?’ and the response is ‘I’m fine, thanks’ when the real answer is far from the truth.

I’m not advocating that we all bring our deepest, darkest secrets into work, but shouldn’t we all accept responsibility to be a bit more honest with others, and with ourselves?

Spending 100,000+ hours pretending to your colleagues that you’re ‘fine’ sounds exhausting to me.

I believe one way we can tackle this ‘I’m fine’ mentality is through improving our own understanding of compassion, and learning how and when to express kindness and empathy in the workplace.

It is said that compassion is an innate, automatic response, triggered when we feel a deep concern for the feelings of others. Of course, it’s affected by external factors and will evolve and adapt as a person does but it is built in, we might just need to work on it to bring it out.

Compassion isn’t something that comes easily to me. I have really had to work at it. Often when you have experienced trauma or tough times in your life, which most people have, it hardens you and your tolerance for trivial, seemingly minor moans and groans. Sometimes when someone comes to us with a problem asking for help we want to know what is in it for us first. Or we want to have all our own issues in order before we can empathise with someone else. However, often the best feeling we can take from helping others is a sense of satisfaction that can’t be matched by acts of selfishness.

One of the ways I have built up my own compassion is through volunteering.

When I started at ANS, I joined the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) team. We meet once a month for an hour and a half and spend the time discussing what charities we are going to support, the events we are going to take part in, fundraising ideas and volunteering opportunities. Since joining, I’ve loved being surrounded by a team who understand the impact we can make as a business, and who are passionate about helping others.

Being part of CSR sparked my interest in volunteering and I now regularly volunteer both outside of work and with our partner charities at ANS. In my own time I volunteer for Contact the Elderly, a charity dedicated to tackling loneliness and social isolation amongst elderly people. With ANS, I help out at Manchester South & Central Foodbank where I assist in providing three days’ emergency food and support to local people . At ANS we are lucky that we are also allowed up to 4 volunteering days a year during working hours.

Volunteering for me is so much more than donating to someone’s JustGiving page or buying a homeless person a coffee. For me, it’s a two-way thing, I give my time and in return I benefit personally from the experience and opportunity it provides me, to improve and work on my own compassion. What I get out of it is way more than I put in.

For me, spending time with people in need, listening to their stories, seeing their struggles, pains and anxieties and helping them to overcome them, in whatever way I can, is quite cathartic. If you can relate to their situations in some way, it almost turns into self-compassion at times.

Compassion is such a simple concept, it arises through empathy and is characterised by the actions you take in the face of someone else’s suffering or sorrow.

This could be as simple as offering to make someone a brew when they look really stressed, consoling someone who has just made a mistake, offering a listening ear or considering your words when speaking to someone you know is having a tough time. For me it translates to being kind and thoughtful amidst the tough situations people are experiencing daily.

So, the next time you ask someone how they are or if they are okay and they respond ‘I’m fine, thanks’, remember there will usually be something deeper going on. People won’t always want to talk or open-up, especially in work, but if we can help by just being there for them, offering advice or letting them vent, then we can improve the workplace environment for everyone.

Now I’m not usually one for cheesy, cliche quotes, but this one really resonated with me.

“Everyone has a story. Remember the next person you encounter has gone through something traumatic, or maybe they are right now, or maybe that person is going to wake up tomorrow morning and their life is going to completely change.

Be Kind.

You have no idea what someone is going through outside of work or what they go home to when they clock off.”

I believe a successful company is one that doesn’t see kindness as weakness and one who believes productivity is increased by compassion, not pressure. And of course, a place where the people are looked after, and the kettle is always on…

Check out another ANS Blog about just one of the charities that the CSR Team at ANS work with here.

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