Compassionate supervision: a key to mental health at work

Photo credit: Greg Younger on Flickr

Photo credit: Greg Younger on Flickr

When I first saw this course title – Supervisors Boot Camp – I pictured something that would teach supervisors to demand compliance and productivity with the gusto of a drill sergeant.

But when I read a little further, I was really happy to see the course encouraged supervisors to use compassion and empathy in their work with staff.

“Safety management systems have traditionally focussed on the foundational elements of engineering, education, and enforcement,” reads the description of this course offered by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

“We will add to that an awareness of concepts like empathy, empowerment, and engagement, the soft skills considered necessary for optimal success in ALL measurable business outcomes.”

I was so glad to see this because I believe we need more compassion for each other, in general – at work, at home, and in the community. Our world would be a better place if people took the time to “put themselves in someone else’s shoes” and be more understanding of their struggles – especially if they are related to depression, addiction, or other mental health issues that might feel “too embarrassing” to talk about.

I contacted workshop leader Jeff Lyth to find out more about this emphasis on empathy and what’s included in the “leadership toolkit” for supervisors. He said the toolkit is “… sort of a ‘crash course’ in various leadership models and theories from which they can select those that are the best fit for their workplaces and for them personally.”

Jeff said the workshop starts with a historical context for our workers compensation system, health and safety legislation, and the safety management systems that employers implement. They look at “limitations of the present system and discuss human behaviour and how ‘abiding of authority’ we are, and we consider what forces cause us to truly ‘comply,'” Jeff said.

Jeff also introduces the new requirements for protecting the psychological health and safety of the workforce contained in Bill 14 and CSA Z1003. He said workshop participants “expand the discussion from merely the prevention of ill health, to the management of stress.”

In BC, Bill 14 states a worker is entitled to compensation where a mental disorder is a reaction to workplace bullying and harassment. The Canadian Standards Association also implemented a voluntary standard to help employers develop psychologically safe and health workplaces.

I asked Jeff what’s at risk when there’s a lack of compassion at work.

“Compassion and empathy are widely recognized as critical in the true prevention of psychological ill health in the workplace, and even in the successful implementation of health and safety systems going forward, according to Scott Geller,” he said, referring to this Virginia Tech psychology professor who studies how behaviour-change interventions can improve quality of life.

Thanks to Jeff for the discussion – and I urge everyone to think about how compassion can make a difference at work and society in general.


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