Updated: Feb 18
Compassion and empathy. If you’re a leader trying to apply those for your team, you probably have the best of intentions.
But as Chad Pearson pointed out from the very start of his Mental Health roundtable on “The Power of Compassion,” these buzzwords are often misunderstood. And that can lead to more harm than good when applied in the field.
What’s the solution? Is this an excuse for leaders to push compassion and empathy back to the back burner, where they’ve sat for so many years? No.
But before we explain how compassion can deliver an impressive ROI, let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same thing.
Understanding and Applying Compassion
For that, Chad turned to Bernie Dyme, one of our guests for this roundtable and an expert in compassion. Bernie has worked in the mental health field for a long time. He was one of the early people to recognize that AEC professionals are a high-risk population for mental health challenges.
The stats are behind him. The suicide rate for construction professionals is 49.4 out of 100,000 people, more than four times greater than the national average. To put things into perspective, the risk of suicide is five times greater than every singly other construction fatality combined.
Bernie argues that to avoid horrible outcomes like suicide, we can turn to compassion.
He says that sympathy — understanding someone’s suffering — can transform into empathy, or feeling their suffering. At its highest level, that emotion shifts into compassion: the desire to alleviate that suffering.
Bernie also points out that too much or improperly applied compassion (like compassion without boundaries to protect yourself) can lead to burnout.
So how do leaders apply compassion to support their team? The conversation turned to actionable items.
Holding Space in a Changing Workplace
As more organizations shift to remote work, the challenge of creating space for mental health conversations gets more complicated. To compound the issue, Chad points out that some people feel like talking about mental wellness in a work environment is too personal.
He recommends asking probing questions to hold space for people. Asking “is something wrong?” can feel too direct. Instead, he recommends asking, “Do you feel like you have everything under control? For this week, do you feel that anything is at risk? Do you think we need to throw any resources at anything this week?”
From there, it’s up to you as a leader to tune into the underlying currents of the answers you get. When you see a pattern developing, you’ve already started to open the door for a deeper conversation.
As Bernie said, “The most important thing you can do as a leader is to create an atmosphere of respect and safety and, also, to share what you feel comfortable sharing.”
He also recommends that to the extent you can, try to simulate normalcy for your team during this pandemic. Zoom-based social events can bring everybody together. (He and his team built terrariums from kits, for example.)
The Shifting Tide and Opportunities for Participation
Nick Malette also joined us as a guest for this roundtable. In fact, it was an article that Nick posted on LinkedIn that started the whole conversation around the power of compassion.
During the roundtable, Nick explained that in his past, he felt his presence on LinkedIn wasn’t genuine, nor was it fulfilling. To remedy that, he started posting more honestly and sharing articles that sparked something for him, including mental-health focused pieces. It was one of these articles that got us talking about compassion.
Nick asserted that right now, we have an opportunity to do more — and it doesn’t have to be hard. LinkedIn posts about mental wellness and community-building or simple texts to check in with friends have helped him feel more fulfilled.
And Cal Beyer, a self-proclaimed Boomer, pointed out that having these types of conversations is, in and of itself, a huge step in the right direction. Mental health conversations, particularly in the AEC industry, used to be an extreme rarity. Today, people expect these conversations.
The military has long used the acronym VUCA — volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous — to describe high-risk situations. Chad argues that we’re all now living in a VUCA world, so dialogue around mental wellness gets more important by the day. Having the conversation in the first place helps to normalize it, opening the door for more progress.
To sum things up: people are the cogs in every business. Investment there pays off. Chad left us with a stat: when embracing the top attributes of the highest performing teams, including an emphasis on team cohesion, companies saw a 756% increase in net profit over ten years.
Hear the entire conversation on Youtube.
Want to join our next mental health discussion? Sign up to listen-in or participate on our next CPC virtual roundtable on Wednesday, February 24th at 3pm EST / Noon PST.