A recent survey found that 44% of workers are looking for a new job. There are now two job openings for every person seeking a job, and Baby Boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day. Gallup surveys show only about 31% of workers are engaged at work. Wow! Human Resource executives say that the attraction and retention of engaged employees is the number-one challenge they face. What can be done to attract, retain, and engage the people we need to be successful? One important strategy is to intentionally strive to create a culture of caring.

Research and surveys have identified several benefits to having a culture of caring, such as:

Increased productivity

Higher engagement, job satisfaction, and motivation

Improved workplace connections and sense of community

Lower absenteeism and workplace stress

Higher trust of employers

Competitive advantage, including lower turnover rates and being an employer of choice

Tips to Create a Culture of Caring

1) Show You Care. As leaders, we need to show that we care and model the attitude and behaviors we hope to see on our teams. There is an important concept called “shadow of the leader;” people are watching us to see what example we are setting. To create a deeper culture of caring, we need to model and show the way. I resonate with CEO Anne Wojcicki, who said, “The reality is that the only way change comes is when you lead by example.” A quote I use frequently is, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

We can show we care with our words and with our actions. Included are thoughtful gestures like sending emails, texts, cards, or notes to our teammates when they perform well or face a difficult situation. We can surprise our team with bringing in ice cream bars on a hot afternoon, or sending people home early on a Friday afternoon after a busy week — the potential ideas are endless.

2) Demonstrate Compassion and Empathy. We have a huge impact on how our team members feel. One brain-imaging study found when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion, while the opposite was true when they recalled an empathic boss. Researchers at the University of Michigan suggest that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees foster individual and collective resilience in challenging times (like we live in now!). Showing compassion to others is good for them and for us, as this quote from the Dalai Lama suggests: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

3) Get to Know Our Team. Our team members are not mere workers, but human beings with fears, dreams, challenges, aspirations, passions, and families. Let’s get to know them (within reasonable bounds)! Asking open-ended questions, and looking for opportunities to have some fun on work time and also spending time with people outside of normal work hours can be helpful. Over the years I and my teams have gone bowling, played miniature golf, attended movies, cheered on our local NBA team (Go Blazers!), and enjoyed many visits to nearby restaurants or had food brought into the workplace.

4) Foster Social Connections. Multiple research studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. For example, people get sick less often, recover twice as fast from surgery, experience less depression, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, display more mental acuity, and perform better on the job. On the other hand, research at the University of California found that the probability of dying early is 70% higher for people with poor social relationships! We can encourage social connections among our team members in a variety of ways, such as: having places to take breaks together, having team building meetings and activities (refer to #3 above), acknowledging work anniversaries, celebrating birthdays and other life events, and sometimes just have some fun and laugh together. I like this quote from Andrew Carnegie, “There is little success where there is little laughter.”

5) Ensure a Moderate Workload and Work Hours for Every Employee. There is no place for burning out people in a culture of caring. We should ensure every employee has a reasonable workload and can handle their responsibilities without stress and panic. And we need to minimize the stress on our team members. Experts say that 60-80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress, and that 80% of doctor visits are related to stress. One large scale study showed a strong link between leadership behavior and heart disease in employees. Stress producing bosses are literally bad for the heart — let’s not be that kind of boss!

6) Practice Continual Recognition and Appreciation. Everybody likes to receive positive recognition and appreciation. In all my years of leadership in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, I have never had anyone complain they were receiving too much recognition and appreciation. Recognition and appreciation to be most effective and motivating needs to be ongoing, not just an occasional occurrence. Zig Ziglar stated, “People say that motivation doesn’t last. Well neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily!”

7) Be a Psychological Safe Place. Amy Edmondson from Harvard is considered the world’s leading expert on psychological safety in the workplace. Her research shows that a culture of safety where leaders are inclusive, humble, forgiving, and encourage their staff to speak up or ask for help leads to better learning and performance outcomes. Rather than creating a culture of fear of negative consequences, feeling safe in the workplace encourages people to learn new things, be innovative, and own up to and learn when a mistake happens.

8) Celebrate Success. When we see our team members demonstrate the caring behaviors we want, we need to positively reinforce and celebrate. Management guru Ken Blanchard has long promoted the concept of MBWA (Management by Walking Around) and catching people doing something right – then immediately giving a sincere praise (recognition).

9) Hire With Care. We should be very careful when we hire new team members. If we are developing the caring and positive culture we want, we need actively engaged team members who believe in the culture we are creating. Adhering to strict screening and onboarding processes will help us bring on new people that will enhance our team. One source of potential attractive new hires is to encourage referrals from our existing team members.

10) Extend a Caring Culture Beyond the Workplace. Part of the way our team culture is defined is how we interact with people outside our immediate team. Outsiders include co-workers from other departments and our vendors and suppliers. Extending care to them will be a true win-win; they will respond well and feel appreciated, and we and our teams will receive high quality support. It’s also very important to extend care to our internal and external customers. Customers want to know we value them, not just their money.

Closing thought: Preeminent psychologist William James counseled, "Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does." When we intentionally act to develop a caring culture our team members and our stakeholders will benefit and feel good — and so will we as leaders!

Wes Friesen is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award winning University Instructor and Speaker, and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management and team building training. He serves as the Industry Co-Chair of the Greater Portland PCC. His book, Your Team Can Soar! has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you, and give you practical pointers to help you — and your team — soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer. Wes can be contacted at wesmfriesen@gmail.com or at 971-806-0812.

This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2022 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.