What would a truly compassionate workplace look like? How would it change Americans’ work lives? How would it change society?
A few years back Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, ridiculously claimed he was doing “God’s work” as a gilded banker. Now, if he were the president of a credit union, I would understand his claim. He’d be starting local businesses and safeguarding valuable assets. But at the helm of a company that made tons of money off the mortgage crisis, his claim was laughable.
But what if moral work were a corporate activity? What kind of businesses would we begin to see?
In his recent TED talk, Pope Francis said, “How wonderful would it be if solidarity, the beautiful and at times inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work and became instead the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
Pope Francis spoke to the need for all human endeavors, including business, to adopt a moral imperative that goes beyond corporate responsibility or sustainability. It requires businesses to be more than just arbiters of profitable opportunities, but moral arbiters.
I think three fundamental changes would transpire if there were more morality at work. We would treat employees with more empathy, we’d invest in the entirety of our communities and we’d begin to deliver products people truly need rather than disposable waste that is soon forgotten.
Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant write in their new book Option B, “Compassion at work shouldn’t be a luxury; it’s important to develop policies that give people the time off and support they need so we don’t have to rely on the kindness of our bosses.” Sandberg knows firsthand how important compassion can be in the workplace. After losing her husband in 2015, she had to take time off of work to console herself and help her kids cope with the loss. She noted how the United States is one of the only countries in the world without mandated paid maternity leave––and bereavement leave is even rarer. This despite the fact that grief costs more than $70 billion in lost productivity each year, she writes. Experts estimate that mental illness alone costs $100 billion in lost productivity. Having management that cares about employees’ wellbeing is essential to have a committed, productive environment.
Those of us in Chicago know about the historic disinvestment in our poor neighborhoods in America. Corporate sponsors and officious governmental types line up for new development downtown but rarely offer more than a grocery store for our poor areas. With corporations emphasizing compassion, they’d no longer overlook these areas and these people. Not only would reaching out and investing in poor areas widen companies’ good will in these areas and create new customers, it would also spark others to travel to and invest in struggling areas.
Finally, thinking compassionately in the board room would cut the crap out of corporate. Corporations provide us with many things we need, but so much we don’t. Waste is a big problem in our society. Not only do we discard people, but we create so many products that are unnecessary, fill jobs that don’t give us a sense we’re contributing and take on extra roles that have no real purpose. By creating products that increase social and emotional connectivity, corporations can focus on what people are really looking for in life, not just mood manipulation or temporary satisfaction. If a corporation can meet an existential need, clients will keep coming back.
Business can learn from medicine, which is the perfect mix of compassion and expertise. A New York Times article from last year put it: “‘We in the medical community have to ask ourselves: Are we controlling blood pressure or improving health and well-being?’ Dr. Tang said. ‘I think you have to do the latter to do the former.’”
With an increased emphasis on compassion, businesses can do what they’re supposed to do: fulfill human needs, increase social wellbeing and inspire motivated living. That these are also the goals of social work should tell us something.