As we approach the holiday season, we must be mindful that it is not all fun and festivities for everyone.
Christmas can be a difficult and isolating time. For example, 23 per cent of British people now describe themselves as lonely, with campaigns to tackle loneliness being launched in Australia, Denmark and the UK.[i]
In an attempt to seek out human connection, people are spending more time at work than they do at home. Never have we needed our colleagues so much, yet never have we felt so isolated, with one in six of us feeling we have no one to talk to at work about the things that worry us.[ii] To be human is to suffer, yet our struggles, especially at this time of year, can remain hidden from work. A survey of over 4,000 people[iii], found that 56 per cent of those surveyed would consider resigning from their job if they were not treated with compassion following a difficult life experience. By encouraging organisations to embed compassion into their systems and practices, this helps to ensure positive work environments in which individuals feel cared for and valued. That said, we don’t need to wait for our organisations, there are some simple steps we can take to help colleagues who are going through a difficult time[iv].
Well-meaning colleagues can be harmful in their attempts to provide support to an individual who is going through a difficult time, especially when confidential disclosures are met with judgements or trite statements, such as “it can’t be as bad as all that” or “you’ll get over it”. Instead of asking the individual how they would like their situation to be handled, some colleagues just avoid the subject completely, whereas others address their suffering directly, when the individual has come to work to temporarily forget. So, what is the right thing to say? Colleagues should instead be available to listen without judgement as this has been found to greatly support an individual’s healing. Sometimes, individuals just need a sounding board, so you do not have to feel it is your responsibility to solve their problems or offer solutions. As a colleague, you can become a friend and confidante, so just let them know you are there and available should they ever need to talk. At a very basic level, having someone to trust and confide in at work can significantly aid an individual’s recovery. Suggesting a coffee or a walk off-site and out of the office can also help, since individuals are much more likely to talk about their struggles outside the work environment, where they feel less ‘on show’. This time of year may be a trigger for certain dates, birthdays or anniversaries, which can be very difficult, so for a colleague to reach out by text or WhatsApp over the holidays just to acknowledge that they have remembered and are thinking about the person concerned can have a huge impact.
About the author
Dr Amy Bradley (née Armstrong) is a member of Faculty at Hult International Business School. Her new book, The Human Moment argues that organisations must find ways of becoming more compassionate in an age where our work is increasingly de-humanised. The book is aimed at individuals who want to develop more ‘human’ ways of leading; HR professionals who are looking to support people in the wake of suffering; and people who are struggling at work following a difficult episode in their lives. Based on a decade of research and including examples, stories and case studies, the book argues that compassion is the key to business performance.
[iii] National Council for Palliative Care Report (2014), Life after death: Six steps to improve support in bereavement
[iv] Bradley, A (2019) The Human Moment: The Positive Power of Compassion in the Workplace, LID Publishing