Caring leadership: caring for people is good for business

The diffusion of hybrid working following the pandemic has increased the distances within organizations. That’s why it’s more important than ever to focus on the contact that people have amongst themselves, and to stimulate inclusion and a sense of belonging through caring behaviors. It can help organizations and teams to face changes more effectively at work. Our experiences over the past few months have only confirmed that: once companies saw the barriers between work and life come down, they learned to see people for all they really are, discovering new needs and vulnerabilities.

The same emerged from a report by the Politecnico di Milano’s School of Management (Lifeed research partner in their 2021/2022 HR Innovation Practice Observatory). Even though 8 out of 10 workers were clear on the objectives they needed to aim for and their role within the organization, people felt less engaged and involved in their working activities. 79% said that they had reached a good work-life balance and 76% felt that their working environment was inclusive. But the distance between people and their organizations continues to widen.

Stimulate involvement and motivation

Internal communication and managing the corporate climate are critical processes to consider. Proficiency has been king over the past year, but proactivity has continued to slide. The latter measures the ability to take an active role in introducing positive change to the benefit of the company. When people feel less engaged and involved, they find it difficult to generate ideas that will improve their working activities.

The concept of engagement has been reduced to “vigor”, or rather the psychological condition linked to our energy and desire to work. The initiatives launched by companies to motivate their employees didn’t go far enough in making them feel like they were being noticed. It’s why we need to work on making these new ways of working more sustainable for all. It’s about coming up with new initiatives that stimulate involvement and motivation, creating new caring and attentive ways of leading teams. 

Developing new leadership styles

As the Politecnico’s report highlights, it’s time for HR departments to find new ways to care for and guide their people. Motivating employees would mean re-aligning people to the business’ vision. It’s possible to invest in people’s wellbeing, without losing sight of business needs. Empathy and listening really help people and contribute to increasing productivity at work.

But how can we develop a caring leadership style? Being a “kind” leader doesn’t mean forgetting about your leadership duties within the company. The opposite is true. Kind leaders are able to recognize what their people need, allowing people to safely express their feelings. They’re able to do the same themselves. Vulnerability is now seen as a strength for leaders. It means that they are closer to their teams, but also is a way of leading by example when people feel afraid to share their own emotions. An empathetic leader that’s ready to listen and include others can truly value the team, transforming their strengths into resources for the business.

Training your compassion “muscles” 

As Richard Davidson (founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Winsconsin) says, compassion can be trained through practical exercises. When companies practice compassion, their workers are more trusting and willing to collaborate. Davidson says that “people can effectively build their compassion ‘muscles’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and the willingness to help”. When people are going through periods of intense stress, it’s important to care for their psychological and physiological wellbeing.

The first people that need to train this “muscle” are HR directors. They’re called to support their people in feeling more enthusiastic and motivated. We also need to help people feel ready to mix with others, re-establishing that sense of belonging that they may have lost through the emergency. Let’s try to learn through our past experiences. The challenge is to value the changes that remote working has brought to corporate culture and people behavior, moving from presenteeism to being focused on results. And, most importantly, if people have reached them.