• February 13, 2019

Compassionate Encounters in Supervisory Work

No matter the situation – in employment, relationships or friendships – nobody wants to be alone. Human relations don’t exist when you’re alone. When left alone in a relationship-situation, it’s a sign that the other party doesn’t have time for you, and the feeling of self-worth diminishes or is even lost. At the right time, every one wants the other person to be interested, listening and understanding. Compassionate encounters. A person will want to get out of a relationship when repeatedly left feeling alone.

In an organization, a manager oversees work getting done, but in managing performance it helps to know how to be compassionate and offer support. It is essential to have the competence to meet people, to be present, to listen, to talk and to give and receive feedback.  An excellent manager does not leave an employee unsupported, and they will not be surprised when a worker wishes to change jobs. Unfortunately, it is still true that the biggest reason for changing jobs is poor supervisor performance.

Even though organizations acknowledge the need for and even desire compassionate encounters, excuses are made when one is overburdened with work. Often a manager will tell a familiar story where the employee’s uneasiness simply has gone unnoticed for too long, i.e. there has been no time for a compassionate encounter. Of course, a manager cannot always be blamed for the lack of encounter, as it is also the employee's responsibility to let their feelings be known and tell someone about their need for help. The choice of how much compassion a worker is willing to receive and share in the workplace is the employee's own. For the well-being of the employees and the efficient functioning of the organization, a manager must be interested and willing to have compassionate encounters with their employees. At Valamis, we have always believed that the most important and first step toward well-being at work is the employee's opportunity for compassionate encounters in the workplace. We were discussing this throughout the year 2018, and we made two big changes to the way we do supervisory work in order to make time for the most important encounters.

Leadership as a Service (LaaS) service model to support compassionate encounters

In March 2018, we introduced the Leadership as a Service online service that provides employees with immediate assistance in matters of concern and diminishes the threshold to ask for help and services to support their work. The core of LaaS operations is based on self-guidance and is need-based. The main idea of the LaaS online service is that employees can request (supervisory) services to support their work when they feel they need it. At Valamis, there are almost 100 different types of services available. For example, an employee can request a development or feedback discussion, sleep training, lunch with the CEO, an informational discussion about the company's strategy, or an “afterwork”. Our employee Jussi describes the LaaS service as follows:

“LaaS transfers responsibility for communicating to individuals, while enabling flexible communication with your manager and the company management. I feel that Laas has served me better in comparison to the traditional management style.”

With the LaaS online service, employees are more willing to ask for support in their well-being and work. However, the use of the LaaS service does not mean that you cannot contact the manager directly and ask for help, or that the manager’s responsibility for active support, listening and monitoring of well-being is being removed. However, the "same for everyone at the same time" service model has been eliminated. The service frees time for supervisors in the most important area, that is, the compassionate encounters.

Focus on managerial function

As the most important aspect of a supervisor's competence, I would consider interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to a person on a personal level. Supervisory work requires the ability to listen to, acknowledge and appreciate another person. That is genuine compassion. That is why towards the end of 2018, we also made another change in our way of doing supervisory work. In December, we reorganized so that Jari, one of our most respected and liked supervisors, has been focusing only on people management. Now he has seventy people to manage, but also 157.5 monthly work hours for supervisory work. Jari himself commented on his new role/change as follows:

“People management is close to my heart and I warmly welcomed the possibility of this change. Previously, I worked in a supervisory role in addition to managing customer projects, and it posed challenges for both customer and supervisory work. Now, my time has been completely freed up for the development of employees, so that all of our work can be meaningful, motivating and as smooth as possible.”

On a monthly basis, Jari has on average just over two hours of time for each person. There may be differing views on this number being sufficient, but we believe that complete focus on supervisory work improves its quality, when working hours do not have to be split between clients and employees. Only time will tell how these changes made to supervisory work in 2018 will affect our organization and whether our assumption about an increase in compassionate encounters is correct.

We must remember that we all have relationships, whether it is an employment relationship, a friendship, a significant other or family relationship. No relationship can go without appreciation and compassionate encounters. I hope that every one of us could read Maaret Kallio’s book (2017: Inhimillisiä kohtaamisia) and remember in our daily lives what is at the heart of compassionate encounters (English translation in parentheses):

”Inhimillisiä kohtaamisia tapahtuu siellä, missä ihminen tulee hädässään nähdyksi ja onnessaan tunnistetuksi. (Compassionate encounters take place where a person in need comes into focus and in their joy is seen.) Siellä, missä keskeneräisyys saa luvan olla osa ihmisyyttä. (Where something unfinished can be part of humanity.) Siellä, missä on tilaa olla inhimillinen, päästä lähelle ja säilyä omanaan. (Where there is room to be humane, present and to yourself true remain.) Siellä, missä erilaisuuden sijaan tunnistamme samanlaisuutta ja kilpailemisen sijaan pyrimme samalle puolelle. (Where we see similarities instead of differences and instead of competing we are complementing each other.)”

About The Author

Maria Vihtkari
Chief Human Resource Officer, Valamis Group Oy
Maria has worked for over 10 years with Human Resources in the private sector, and Maria’s expertise includes developing organizational culture and labor law. In her current position, Maria works e.g. with international HR tasks, with domestic and international recruitments, as well as with personnel planning, well-being at work, staff development, employee experience and employer image.

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