Too busy to care: Study reveals lack of compassion in the work place

Compassion, understanding and empathy have not been offered to employees of meetings and events businesses because demonstrating these emotions is regarded as unprofessional, or colleagues are simply too busy and over-burdened to care. 

These are some of the findings revealed by the results of a study by the Meetings Industry Association (mia) and internationally-renowned leadership and organisational development expert Roffey Park Institute into mental health and compassion in the work place.

According to the study, which considered feedback from focus groups and the results of an online survey, 75% of people working in the industry have been managed in the past by someone who, in their view, lacked compassion, while a similar number – 78% – said they had seen others miss opportunities for compassion because it wasn’t seen as part of their job.

When probed about the reasons for showing compassion at work, 35% confessed to missing an opportunity to be compassionate themselves because they felt it wasn’t professional to express emotion or be caring while 68% said it was because people were too burdened or burned out to feel empathy with their colleagues.

Some of the barriers to being compassionate in the working environment noted by those surveyed included concerns that it would be seen as too ‘soft’ and emotional for the professional environment and a lack of understanding of what being compassionate is.

Our increasing reliance on technology was also blamed, with email removing the human element provided by face-to-face meetings or a phone call, while the main barrier was the fact that many people were simply too busy trying to ‘get the job done’ to care.

However, while many had witnessed a lack of compassion in the past, the majority of those surveyed said they were now working in a business where they felt it would be acceptable to talk about their problems and would be listened to and helped by colleagues.

When asked if their current organisation has a compassionate culture, an overwhelming majority of 71% agreed they could discuss problems with their colleagues while just 10% disagreed, demonstrating that the industry is heading in the right direction.

The results were revealed by Michael Jenkins, CEO of Roffey Park Institute in London at the event ‘Cultivating compassion in the work place; an effective tool with big benefits’.

Responding to the findings, Michael Jenkins, CEO of Roffey Park said: “At Roffey Park we are delighted to see the mia taking a lead on linking better mental health with more compassionate workplaces.

“Our survey results suggest that the sector both wants and needs more compassion. Fortunately, the survey also reveals strong support for building more compassionate organisations, particularly at a time when employees and managers alike see that we are heading into a period of increasing uncertainty and volatility. Increased stress levels and growing challenges around finding and retaining talent are on the cards: the need to nurture and keep good people is going to come under sustained and continued pressure.

“The good news is that the sector is taking action and that is great to see. The potential for compassion to foster better environments for improved mental wellbeing is there. The key thing is to react now so that we can reap the people, and business, benefits in the years to come.” 

Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the mia, said: “Over the next 12 months as we continue to face the uncertainties and challenges caused by leaving the European Union, organisations in the sector will come under increasing pressure to retain and look after their talented staff. It was therefore crucial to understand the impact that mental health and compassion in the workplace has not only on recruitment, staff retention and engagement, but ultimately on the bottom line.

“From the results of this study, it is clear that as a sector we need to focus more energy on creating desirable and rewarding places to work. So, a key part of the mia’s work for 2018 will be supporting the sector with a number of dedicated workshops to create environments to foster improved wellbeing.”

The event at the BMA in London, which also included a workshop on emotional intelligence by Tracey Powiesnik of Core Process, is the first in a series of events planned by the mia to explore the report’s findings and help business leaders cultivate a more compassionate working environment for their staff.

Future workshops with Core Process are scheduled to be held next year, with a full day session planned on Tuesday 16 January and half day sessions on Monday 26 March, Wednesday 13 June and Wednesday 12 September.

Join the debate at #MeetingMindsMatter.