The Business of Creating a Caring Culture

Peter Drucker, the management guru is famously to have said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, and yet the elusive matter of culture is so intangible it can be hard to describe, create and measure. If you’ve been house hunting you may have chosen your home based on a feeling. Culture within organisations is often very like this; a feeling.

Tony Humphreys in his book ‘Work and Worth’ says work culture is made up of ‘symbols, language, assumptions, traditions and behaviours’. He further adds that when such work cultures are not caring in nature ‘they can have profound affects on well-being’. I often quote Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology who suggests well-being should be our only goal.

While chatting with a neighbour this weekend who has two young children and returned back to work last October after maternity leave. I asked her if her organisation had made any amendments to her work schedule to allow her to care for her children while schools and childcare are shut. Her answer was no, in fact her workload has increased since the beginning of the month. Only 4 of her 20 person team have children and it’s not spoken about. Humphreys says there are very few examples of person-centred workplaces and the emphasis still seems to be on productivity.

Human Centered Approach

A tweet went viral last week which went something like this. A woman approached her boss and asked for her work hours to be reduced to 80%. Her boss refused. That was the headline that caused the tweet to go viral, but when you read on, the poster explained that he refused to reduce his employees pay to 80% but told her take the time she needs to support her family and to do her best in her job. By the way, this could also have been a man making this request but the reality is women take on most of the caring responsibilities in most families. This boss reflects a human centred approach to work.

When we focus entirely on productivity, we treat people like robots. Life is messy, it doesn’t go according to plan and certainly not in the middle of a pandemic. There will be ebbs and flows. There are hours, days, weeks and months over the course of my career when I am really productive and there are times when I am less so and that is life.

Humphreys suggests that many managers would consider the above approach as ‘soft’ and not befitting of leadership. Yet, research shows that happier workers are ‘not only more creative and productive but are supportive of each other and of management, and this especially shows itself in crisis’. This book was written well before the onset of Covid19 but how relevant it is.

I recently learned about Jim Sinegal, co-founder and former CEO of Costco the large warehouse style retailer in the US. His management style was described as benevolent. He would travel each year to every location to inspect them personally. He believed by treating your employees well, they in turn will serve customers well. For example, over 90% of Costco employees qualify for medical benefits as against the US average of 60%. This results in a very low level of turnover.

Characteristics of a Caring Culture

Humphreys identifies some characteristics of a caring culture:

  • Views all employees as unique with rights and needs
  • Listens and responds to these rights and needs
  • Values and affirms workers which takes precedence over productivity
  • Recognises the influence that self-esteem has on creativity, productivity and management
  • Provides special attention to those that feel bad about themselves or lack confidence
  • Affirms the vast intellectual capacity of each of its workers
  • Embraces failure and success as equal stepping stones
  • Praises work efforts and love of work
  • Makes work and management enhancing of an employee’s welfare
  • Stresses caring relationships
  • Creates an environment where people learn to take self-responsibility.

Create a Caring Culture

Creating a caring culture begins with you. You know the metaphor of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. When you are kind to yourself you are in a better place to be kind to others. A recent study reported on how people felt after performing or observing acts of kindness every day for seven days. Probably not surprising, but it boosted happiness levels by increasing serotonin and oxytocin levels. We all have a choice on how we react to ourselves and to others. If you need convincing on this you might like to read The Choice by Edith Eger or books by many of the other incredible people who have survived harrowing circumstances.

If you currently work in an organisation which doesn’t reflect a caring culture this might sound like an unachievable goal or perhaps even fluff and not real leadership but the evidence suggests otherwise. A caring culture can be the critical ingredient for organisational success. It is important that caring is not just a value on the wall but a part of your strategy and visible at various touchpoints. In fact, research suggests that emphasising caring approaches can improve critical thinking.

Caring approaches can be taught, but people need to understand the why of taking a caring approach. To serve comes naturally to some but not everyone. Learning compassionate approaches can lead to lasting changes in how people think and act. How can you help to create a culture of care where you work? We need it now, more than ever.

If you would like support in creating a more caring culture in your organisation reach out to me for a complimentary consultation.

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