Make Care a Culture (or Count the Cost)


Sarah is an admin assistant at ABC Tech. She’s had a tough year with health challenges and difficult family situations. In spite of having used all her sick days, her doctor suggests she needs more time off. She has spoken with her manager about what she is facing and how it is impacting her work. Her manager’s compassionate and understanding response has reduced her stress and she is free to take the time she needs to get better. Her co-workers have picked up the slack and a number of them have been in touch to wish her well and offer help if she needs it. Sarah is grateful for her company’s caring and is motivated to get better and get back to work as her most productive self.

Across town, Sonya is a marketing coordinator at XYZ Marketing. Her personal circumstances mirror Sarah’s, but unlike Sarah, she is terrified to ask for the time she needs to heal. Her manager has implied that her health issues have inconvenienced the whole team. Sonya suspects he has spoken with her colleagues about her situation because they are letting her know they are not pleased with having to take on some of her tasks. The stress of both her health and personal issues, and the strain she feels from her company not supporting her return to wellness, leads her to come back before she is ready, struggling with focus and productivity. Sonya knows she is not performing, but feels she does not have a choice.

The Profit of Care
Because Sarah’s company demonstrates a culture of care, she is likely to get healthy faster, deal with her stresses more effectively and get back to work at her best capacity more quickly. Sonya is likely to limp along until she either can’t cope and must take a formal leave or go on short-term disability, or she can no longer cope with the stress and quits.

Why does having a culture of caring matter? Because it impacts your bottom line. A caring culture increases engagement, which positively affects absenteeism, retention and productivity. Culture also impacts the customer experience. Employees who are happy and feel cared about, valued and supported are more likely to provide a positive customer experience.

The Catalyst of Care
While front-line behaviours affect the customer experience, workplace culture is created by an organization’s top leaders. What they say (and more importantly, what they do), sets the tone for how people will function in an organization. When you receive exceptional customer service, are treated with kindness, respect and professionalism, it’s highly likely that those employees feel they are valued members of that company—and that comes from the top.

Leaders who care engender loyalty, productivity and high levels of performance. They also create a contagious atmosphere where employees care about one another, their customers and the company’s success.

The Pillars of Care
A December 2016 article titled, “How a Caring Leader Can Create a Culture of Support,” published by Orange County’s Brandman University, identifies two important elements that lead to caring cultures:

Empathy and Trust
As the article states and HR professionals know, “All relationships are built on two foundational concepts: empathy and trust. If either is missing, the relationship either fails to progress, or ends completely.”
Some people are uncomfortable with emotions in the workplace, dismissing them as “touchy-feely.” They believe that money and/or position are the only effective motivators and that feelings are irrelevant.

However, the article reveals that a surprisingly large portion of employees are actually motivated less by money and more by quality of life choices like paid time-off or high-quality recognition programs.
Work cultures that are safe environments where everyone is encouraged to talk about what’s important to them, especially difficult topics, cause employees to feel cared about as people (one of the top indicators for engagement according to Gallup’s Top 12 Engagement Factors). Employees who are supported are empowered to positively influence their work environments. Leaders who model this behaviour build trust.

Personal Commitment And Ownership
While strong, authentic, caring leadership is the first step in creating caring cultures, employees must join their leaders in upholding that environment and committing to living it out day-by-day. The Brandman article states, “No one gets a pass. Leaders have a responsibility to maintain safe environments for their employees to be frank, and to avoid favouritism, judgment and roadblocks. Employees are responsible for being the eyes and ears within the organization and to speak up to identify which corners need the light.”

The cost of not having a caring culture, like the one Sonya finds herself in above, are significant. High turnover, increased stress (leading to lower productivity and effectiveness), toxic work environments where employees are more likely to gossip and foster negativity, and an increase in health-related issues, leading to absenteeism and medical/stress leaves.

Seven Strategies to Build Caring Culture
Developing a caring culture starts at the top and then holds the team accountable for nurturing and sustaining that culture. Derek Carpenter, director at Hueman, a recruitment process and outsourcing firm, proposes the following seven strategies for creating a culture of caring at your business, published on

  • Know what drives and motivates your employees. Ask your employees what they love about their jobs, what keeps them engaged. Allow them to explore their passions while remaining true to the company’s mission and vision.
  • Be a transparent leader. Trust is a direct result of transparency. Keep destructive rumours and half-truths at bay by providing as much information as possible. This helps employees feel that they are valued and that they belong.
  • Let employees take the reins. Ask for your team’s feedback. They have ideas that could make your company stronger. Allow them to occasionally test their ideas. When they fail, help them rebound without judgment to create learning experiences and strengthen their ability to take risks and make good decisions.
  • Be upfront about performance goals. Employees who don’t know what is expected of them become frustrated and disengaged. Be clear about your expectations.
  • Focus on strengths, not weaknesses. It’s human nature to focus on weaknesses and seek to improve, but it’s far more powerful to focus and build on strengths. In a Gallup poll, about two-thirds of those employed by an organization that focused on their strengths felt engaged in the workplace. By comparison, the same study showed that less than one-third of people working in a weakness-emphasized culture felt similarly.
  • Provide competitive compensation. Money isn’t everything, but if your compensation isn’t competitive for your industry, it’s difficult to keep talented workers. If possible, do not risk losing an outstanding employee over a salary issue when the cost to find and train a suitable replacement would likely be significantly higher.
  • Offer rewards and celebrate wins. Regularly reward acts of excellence. Find ways to celebrate both personal and company wins on a regular basis. Offer meaningful rewards to keep your top players aware that their contributions are respected and applauded.

Care Delivers Daily Dividends
Any organization can introduce caring to the workplace. Cheerful greetings, conversations about family members or simply delivering a much-needed cup of coffee can set the tone for a compassionate environment. Showing people you care, and creating policies that foster compassion, are simple, effective ways to improve business.

Creating a caring environment may seem like a soft perk, but it has the power to create loyalty, motivate high performance and set the stage for a happy workplace. The positive impact on your bottom line is anything but soft.

As principal of SMART HR, Ingrid Vaughan’s focus is building systems and processes that keep organizations’ HR running smoothly, and providing tools to help managed teams in a powerful and effective way.

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