Treat everyone with kindness – you never know what battles they are fighting

Fri 7th Apr 2017 – by Paul O'Neill

My father passed away a couple of weeks ago – he was an old man and had been ill for some time so not really surprising. It’s hard though, he was a good guy and a great Dad, I am missing him and I’m grieving.

At work I’ve been ok, I had a few days off to deal with the practicalities, support mum and attend the funeral. Mostly at work I’ve been ‘working as normal’ but I confess my concentration hasn’t been what it normally is and I’ve been incredibly tired and a few more aches and pains which I think are associated with broken sleep.

 It struck me how over the years of working I’ve had team members and colleagues deal with every kind of life-stress. Births, lots of poorly children, adoptions and fosterings, sons in prison, daughters with anorexia, suicidal brothers, divorces, abusive relationships, disastrous house moves, house floods and collapses, car fires and crashes, life changing illnesses; cancer, heart attacks, strokes, brain haemorrhages and tumours, sudden death, long drawn-out death and many frail and elderly parents needing care and attention from busy working folks.

Whenever these challenges have been within my own teams I hope I’ve been understanding and sympathetic. I have listened and been flexible where I can with hours of work, short term leave and understanding someone’s performance might dip for a while, I know my own team are cutting me some slack at the moment.

In all my years, almost everyone I’ve known has tried really hard to keep the show on the road, i.e. kept coming to work and being productive whilst they are dealing with all manner of genuine life difficulties. I also know that where people have been treated with kindness and been given some latitude, they have paid it back ten-fold when they are fully functioning again.

I also know that sometimes, staff aren’t always treated with compassion. The work never stops, demands increase and performance is king. Staff are pushed to do more sometimes in unkind ways – ‘JFDI – or else!’

But we can’t always know what else people are carrying or suffering with – not everyone chooses to disclose the cause of their distress – even when the signs and symptoms are there for all to see. I am not advocating mass group therapy sessions and days of navel gazing at the expense of getting any ‘real work’ done, simply encouraging us as leaders to take the time to know those we work closest with and what else is going on in their lives.

 I know the sentiment from some is ‘Just leave your emotions at the door, this is work’. We can no more ‘leave our emotions at the door’ as we can leave our shadows. We need to be aware of our emotions, work with them, talk about them and harness them, sometimes we need to distract ourselves from the negative ones, sometimes just feel them or be aware of them  and quietly and determinedly do the very best we can even when we are tired and distressed. Sometimes we need a break from work to do the things that will help us feel a bit better.

As leaders we can create a climate in which people can share their trials and tribulations when they need to and within reason, make the accommodations they need to deal with their current challenges.

It’s the right thing to do, and as sure as night follows day – the time will come when you will need a little kindness too. Thanks to my friends and colleagues who are looking after me at the moment.