“Help me retain our best people. My advice to managers is to learn how caring can vastly improve teamwork and business outcomes. If you can do this, it will slow down our company churn rate. With a caring work environment we can achieve great things.” ~ Judy Madison**
First, let’s agree that Caring is a form of affection appropriate to the workplace. In a business context it is the act of being concerned about the wellbeing of your workers, not just the work they do. There is extensive research showing how wellness drives increased productivity. When individuals feel at their peak, great things happen. In contrast, when they feel no one cares about them and their success, then their energy, engagement and motivation ebb away.
"People don't care how much you know--until they know how much you care."
Precursors to caring connections
You can be a brilliant manager and a tremendous individual contributor but if you are trying to get others to work in tandem with you, know that people don’t care how much you know until they know you really care about them. Focusing only on tasks degrades organizational effectiveness when individuals recognize no one cares about them. As realization sets in they become demotivated and disconnected from their work. Caring is therefore very powerful and it is reciprocal in nature. When leaders care about their workers and show it, team members feel this warmth and connection. This ultimately enables them to embrace the goals of the organization, become engaged and actively contribute to organizational outcomes.
There are many types of connections each one representing higher levels of caring and concern. These include warmth, kindness, sympathy, empathy, compassion, and ultimately nurturing. They are best understood as different forms of warmth, from the most basic, “I care about you”, to the strongest, nurturing, where “I want you to flourish”.
From this article about Caring At Work by NY Times, “Caring about others makes them feel better, safer, more trusting, less preoccupied and more able to care themselves, about others and about the work they do. Care is also a way to make better decisions by asking such questions as, “Is this the most caring choice I could make?” and “Am I finding the right balance between care for others and care for myself?”
- Care is the X Factor at Work, NY Times
Since warmth always precedes connection, caring behaviors are fundamental to building powerful workplace relationships, the kind that displaces feelings of social isolation with the warmth of caring and connection. Indeed these are social tools and leaders must use each of these tools to the best of their ability. By using them they become powerful models for the entire organization. Perhaps nothing matters more for without good connections the workplace literally unravels.
Caring creates a tightly woven social system
When leaders show they care deeply about others, it spawns a selfless environment where relationships and mutual acceptance take hold. This is a powerful force that stimulates deep connections among team members. Why is this so important? Well, professionals represent unique threads of aptitude and experience that leaders must weave together to form a closely connected tapestry of mind and emotion. We are in a talent-centric economy where winning and losing is ultimately defined by the strength of the weave. A tightly woven human social system is the fabric modern productivity thrives on. Without deep relationships and extensive institutional experience, collective efforts struggle to ignite. Failed ignitions are costly in real terms as teams under produce and under deliver. Moreover, the opportunity cost of innovation that would have happened, but didn’t, slowly erodes the economic viability of any organization.
Caring is therefore beneficial to all parties involved. It can sometimes seem inconvenient to ask how someone is doing or if they need help, but the research shows that taking those few extra minutes out of your day to care for others has an immediate impact on productivity. Research by Wharton University showed that employees who woke up on the wrong side of the bed were 10% less productive each day. Their research also showed that intervening to reset their mood also reset their productivity.
Overall psychological wellbeing is directly linked to caring. Numerous studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between caring for others around us and positive overall attitude (Wheeler, 1998). This correlation was most prominently displayed in older adults. Additionally, younger adults who regularly participated in volunteering events over long periods were generally happier and had higher levels of mental well-being.
Caring about one another is so fundamental to the functioning of an organization, or any group endeavor, that we must encourage all team members, to behave unselfishly by helping others when they need it. Moreover, people have a need to be noticed, and caring clearly makes workers feel they have been seen and recognized by management and their peers. This makes them feel much less isolated, which is an important part of helping them feel comfortable, so that they can relax, think, and produce.
Caring extends beyond your team
A caring culture produces beneficial ripple effects as well. It manifests beyond the internal organization in healthier relationships with vendors and partners. When individuals and leaders reflexively care about one another, they do the same with everyone they work with, and live with (it also extends to the home). It becomes a very powerful force that strengthens a company in many ways.
“I care not because I know them, but because I know myself. I know the truth about my relationship to all others, that we share the same human value and vulnerability. We share the capacity to love and the capacity to suffer. While miles, class, race and culture may separate us, if I am in touch with my own value and vulnerability, I can feel it in others.”
– Donna Hicks, P.h.D, Yale University
Some practical advice
Consider the following approach when you ask about your worker, “How are you doing? Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Ok, good luck with it. Hope it works out.” compared to “Oh I am sorry to hear this. Listen, if you need to speak more on this I want you to come to me. I want to know you’re ok. I mean it.”
To open the possibility of connection, the other individual must also feel sincere respect and appreciation for them as an individual. If not, the possibility of connection is closed off, as they will sense rejection and insincerity instead. Caring leaders find out what is best about others and do not prejudge them by letting biases give off a negative vibe. In the end you evaluate work but you do not judge the person. So Acceptance is a precursor to warmth before a connection can occur.
When caring behaviors are uncommon in an organization, the absence of warmth engenders distrust, fear, isolation, and a lack of belonging. When a leader does not care about team members, the work environment becomes very dangerous, and guarded behaviors predominate as workers focus on their own survival. The needs of the organization now move out of focus.
To be perceived as a caring leader, you must
- lead with sincere warmth,
- you must take a genuine interest in your workforce,
- you must understand their normal mood and expression,
- you must read facial changes to sense unspoken signals that enable you to accurately tune into either positive change (e.g., elation, accomplishment, happiness), or negative (e.g., stress, fear, suffering),
- and you must react to these signals by sharing your concerns with the other person to show you care about them.
Caring is a factor that is often overlooked in our busy lives, but is so crucial to the success of any team. And just because it is difficult to measure and quantify does not lessen its importance when managing individuals and teams. Caring about others creates a clear pathway to competitive advantage. It is clear that caring, unselfish, cultures will lead because they unlock the full human potential needed to win in today’s highly competitive and shifting business landscape.
Lastly, don’t forget about self-care. You have to take care of yourself so that you have the energy to take care of others. Individuals are faced with many competing demands from work, family and friends. Whatever means of recharging your batteries works for you, schedule it just like you would schedule think time. People count, including you!!
"Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts. It is about one life influencing another."
- John C. Maxwell
**Judy Madison is a fictitious character that helps us think through challenges of HR transformation. Any resemblance of any HR professional is purely coincidental.