Everyone has something. Do you know what that “something” is for your team members? 

Recently, I was reminded that our teams, many times, are fighting a battle we may know nothing about. They may be making life-altering decisions when they aren’t at work, they may be suffering from a pain we are oblivious to, they may be struggling to get out of bed in the morning … and we expect them to give 100% at work all the time. 

Is that realistic? 

Some think that in leadership we must be careful to show how much we care. That we may be taken advantage of if we care “too much.” It may show weakness or too much vulnerability. We can’t be friends with the people we work with. I absolutely challenge these ideas. 

Need proof? “My supervisor, or someone I work with, seems to care about me as a person.” When people answered yes to this question during a Gallup study (Rath and Conchie, 2008, p. 85), outcomes were better. 

Team members stayed, they were more engaged and more productive. In my experience, team members who feel cared for by the organization also feel a deeper sense of belonging. This is our responsibility as leaders to create an environment where it is natural and expected to care for one another. This starts with how you model compassion as a leader. Do you do just enough? Do you check the box to show you care? Or are you genuinely invested?   

Showing compassion is bigger than being “co-workers.” It is about heartfelt caring. We expect our team members to do this for, and with, the residents we serve. It’s also necessary that we do it with each other. 

I can already hear the argument: “How can I possibly do this? I don’t have the time, I’m too busy. I have too much on my plate, and now you want me to understand what is going on in my team member’s lives outside of work?”

The short answer: YES. 

I’m not suggesting you solve problems, act as a counselor or resolve our team member’s personal struggles. What I am coaching you to do is … care. Writing this blog today is a reminder for me too. 

We all get caught up in the day-to-day and don’t always take the time to ask, “How are you doing?” But also remember that it’s not enough to simply ask. Showing compassion is to ask and listen without judgment, without interruption and with an open heart. There are resources we could offer to team members. Most of us have an employee assistance program, but what I’m talking about today is that everyday practice of taking the time to make sure our team members know we care. 

As we all struggle with creating cultures team members want to be a part of, I believe showing genuine compassion for those we work with must be at the top of the list. We absolutely can be friends with people we work with. As long as there is mutual respect and shared purpose with a commitment to the organization, why wouldn’t we want to be friends with the people we work with? 

We are with these people sometimes more than our own families. Of course we care for each other. I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Rath, Tom and Conchie, Barry. (2008) Strengths Based Leadership, New York, Gallup

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Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently co-facilitates LeadingAge Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a Leading Age Academy fellow and former coach. The Head Coach (president and CEO) of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program in 2019.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.