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Does compassion start in the office?

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Over the weekend, social media and news outlets were buzzing with a piece by BBC correspondent Charlotte Ashton which suggested Singapore suffered from a “massive compassion deficit”.

While some argued her article, which highlighted local commuters’ ignorance to her pregnancy woes on public transportation was harsh, others praised her for highlighting an issue that’s been underlying Singapore’s society.

After all, the city nation was named one of the world’s least positive countries by Gallup two years ago.

Even though Singapore’s ranking on Gallup’s index has since improved, I must admit I understand where Ashton’s angst comes from.

It may be pushing it to call Singaporeans an ignorant, cold-hearted bunch, but it would be naïve of me to not acknowledge the fact that it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit more compassionate.

Stand at the heart of the CBD at peak hour or take a look at your fellow commuters and chances are you’ll find them engrossed in a mobile device or staring emotionless into nothing.

Ashton’s article, which carried a quote from a peer suggesting Singaporeans’ impassiveness stems from having been programmed to believe the “only thing that matters is money – helping people is not important”, seems to hint work and the stress which comes with it may be one of the reasons we’re a bummed out lot.

So could the key to becoming a happier and more compassionate company start in the office? To be fair, it is where most of us spend a majority of the time.

The relationships I have forged with my colleagues are among the strongest I have – they are, after all, the ones who put up with my whinging and whom I celebrate my successes with.

As leaders, is there more we can do to build a culture where helping people is important? Yes, there are targets to meet, reports to write and deals to seal. But that doesn’t mean work has to always be about the bottom line.

Increasingly so, employees are placing culture as high on the list of important workplace assets as things like compensation and development opportunities.

Sure, culture isn’t something we can build or change overnight, but as a leader, I do think the onus is on you to turn up dial on compassion in the office.

Be more tuned in to employees’ emotions – are they headed towards a burnout, and if so, what can you do to ease their workload?

Are you recognising staff on a more regular basis, and encouraging them to do the same with their own subordinates or peers?

Do you treat your employees as people and not just worker bees placed to help you achieve a goal?

Especially if you’re in HR, I believe there is a stronger – and justified – pressure on you to be a role model when it comes to putting the “human” back in HR, and in the organisation.

We are all still operating in a business, but like any well-oiled machine, making sure what makes the machine tick – and in this case it is the people who work for you – are in good working condition can make the difference between being a good company and a great place to work.

And who knows, employees who are happy at work may just as well be happier commuters, happier members of society, and happier citizens of Singapore.

Image: Shutterstock

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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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