How compassionate leadership can attract and retain talent

Compassionate leadership for retaining talent

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What a time to be in HR. During the pandemic, you’ve had to juggle ever-changing rules and regulations, devise new systems, create new ways of working, help people feel safe, and still deliver on business goals. Now, the Great Resignation threatens a new crisis, as people seem to be leaving organisations at an alarming rate.

The pandemic has impacted employees’ mental health 

“The Great Resignation clearly presents HR teams with new challenges,” says Dr Jeri Tikare, a clinical psychologist at Kooth. 

“Employees have been pushed to their limits during the pandemic. They’ve been worried about friends and family, about getting COVID-19 themselves, about uncertainty at work, about homeschooling, about so many things. It’s not surprising if people are looking to change their way of working right now, from exploring new directions to leaving their job.”


Could compassion be the answer?

This situation calls for new strategies. “One approach to mass resignations is to ask yourself how you can achieve your organisational targets while still getting the best from people who have been under a great deal of stress,” says Dr Tikare. “Introducing a new style of compassionate leadership could be the answer.”

Breaking compassion down a bit further, Dr Tikare suggests that within the context of leadership, compassion is a drive to pay conscious attention to the suffering and needs of others, as well as committing to working towards alleviating and preventing suffering as much as possible. It’s also about creating a culture that supports the flourishing of individuals. 


Not a soft touch

Compassionate leadership is not a soft approach that forgets about organisational targets. It’s a way of both being equally sensitive to people’s needs and meeting your company’s goals.

Although compassionate leaders put compassion for the employee as their primary goal ahead of corporate goals, this approach is supportive of business targets, too. An organisation whose culture is fuelled and shaped by compassion with the leadership at the helm of this way of working is likely to have employees who feel appreciated and supported. These employees are more likely to be productive, creative, and effective. In turn, this helps businesses to reach their strategic goals.


Moving from empathy to action

Traditionally, organisations have looked for leaders who are confident, highly focused pace setters. Their first priority has been to motivate their team to achieve organisational goals.

If you want to establish a culture of compassionate leadership, the focus changes. You’re looking for additional qualities alongside the usual leadership skills. 

“Empathy comes to the forefront,” says Dr Tikare. “You want someone who is kind, empathic, and understanding, with good listening skills. Someone who you can talk to when you’re struggling. The kind of person who will work alongside you to bring out the best in you.”

According to Harvard Business Review, as well as connecting to this empathy, it’s also about leading with the intention of action. Empathy is about understanding and identifying with the situation. The next step is compassion, which involves looking at how that person needs to be supported, and putting this into action. 


Why we need compassionate leaders now

There are three key reasons why your organisation may need more compassionate leaders in the era of the Great Resignation. 

  • To help employees cope with the changes and challenges they’re facing. 
  • To create a supportive, nurturing environment that encourages employees to flourish within your organisation.
  • To establish a point of differentiation that will help you attract potential new employees.


What does a compassionate leader look like?

Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is often cited as an example of a compassionate leader. She showed empathetic leadership following the Christchurch Mosque attacks in March 2019 and has openly pursued a policy to “be strong, be kind” during the pandemic.


5 ways to radiate compassion at work

Here are five ways that you can bring a greater sense of compassion into leadership in your workplace.


1) Lead by example

“Compassionate leadership is very much about leading by example,” says Dr Tikare. “Leaders have to create a sense of safety so that staff feel able to talk to them about their pain and distress. If you as a leader suffer a bereavement but are straight back at work the next day, it could send a message to other employees that you expect them to do the same. 

“In contrast, expressing your feelings and letting others know when you’re going through a hard time might help people feel more able to talk to you when they’re also experiencing difficulties.”


2) Take time to understand people

Being truly compassionate means challenging your own assumptions and taking the time to understand who people really are and what’s important to them. This is true for everyone, but particularly so when you’re considering protected characteristics such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

You might think you know what an older employee is looking for in their work, but have you checked out your assumptions with that person?

“Create the right atmosphere by practising your listening skills,” says Dr Tikare. “Let employees take the lead on sensitive topics, and allow them the latitude to disclose as much or as little as they want. It’s a question of establishing trust so that they feel that you’re making a genuine effort to understand their personal situation, beliefs, and values.”


3) Empower others

Being a compassionate leader means stepping away from the old-style competitive approach to business. It’s not about you being out for self-advancement or winning the lion’s share of praise as the leader. It’s about empowering team members and allowing their brilliance to shine.

Do this by:

  • Letting other people make the most of their expertise and skills. 
  • Watching out for signs that you – or anyone else – is competing with others, and nip that tendency in the bud. 
  • Reinforcing compassionate behaviour by recognising it and rewarding it.


4) Be consistently proactive

As a compassionate leader, if you notice that someone is suffering, you need to take action. But rather than waiting until someone is at breaking point, it’s about being consistently compassionate and proactive over time. This consistency comes from growing a working relationship based on trust, regularly taking time to check in with and understand individuals, encouraging empowerment amongst teams, and taking an empathetic and conscious approach day to day. 

It can also be helpful to offer training in Mental Health First Aid to leaders in your organisation, so that they can spot signs of distress and know the best course of action. It’s also a good idea to signpost leaders to alternative sources of support, whether that’s a Wellbeing Officer or an external service such as Kooth Work.


5) Start with self-compassion

You can only really show compassion to others if you already know how to show compassion to yourself. How well can you let go of critical feelings towards yourself? Are you able to cut yourself some slack and find ways to reduce your physical and mental stresses?



“Post-COVID, people are questioning how they’re spending their time,” adds Dr Tikare. “And most of us spend a huge amount of time at work. We want to work for an organisation that shares our values, so there’s a sense of aiming for common goals. 

“If we can create a culture of compassionate leadership, where we demonstrate genuine concern about people’s wellbeing, employees will want to stay with the organisation. Instead of thinking, ‘I’m working for you’, their mindset will be ‘We’re working together’.”

To read more about how you can attract and retain your talent, download our guide on beating the Great Resignation today. 

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