Have We ‘Over-Professionalised’ the Workplace?

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Care in the workplace is something you don’t often hear executives discussing. It also isn’t something we routinely read about in business journals or the leadership literature. Tracy Kite, author of Love to Lead, leads the discussion below, on the over-proffessionlisation of the workplace.

My own research suggests that the discourse on care in business is a crucial aspect of successful achievement, good attrition and a high performing workforce.

So I set about finding out exactly how much literature there is available to contribute to the discussion and practice. By care, I mean the altruistic, attentive and compassionate consideration of one human being to another; the interaction which offers a genuine concern for the welfare and well-being of that individual. Can you guess what I found? Pretty much nothing!

So why don’t we mention care in leadership and business? I seriously doubt there will be managers who say they don’t care, yet we don’t discuss or contemplate this aspect of humanness in our professional endeavours. I do wonder if in our attempts to be seen as ‘professional’, we have lost the origins of leadership itself; those ‘soft’ aspects of human interaction that are caring behaviours; those behaviours which facilitate performance excellence in our colleagues and peers. Cadbury built its original philosophies on this concept and proponents of ‘Servant Leadership’ still do. Is it perhaps the fear of seeming ‘soft’ and un-business-like which makes us avoid words like care and compassion in business?

In the ‘professionalisation’ of our world and our enthusiasm deliver value to our business, we have tended to reduce the discussion to a brief mention of rapport-building and trust in working relationships. In our eagerness to be considered ‘business-like’, we have focused our attention on outcomes for the business and producing a financial return on investment – measuring business success by the hard metrics.

These are all vital aspects of business of course. However, the recognition of ourselves and others as human beings is also essential. It is essential in ensuring we get the best from everyone who works with us – valuing, appreciating and caring, so people are enabled to come to work and do a great job. This will inevitably include all those messy, non-business-like emotions, troubles, and fears that we have become programmed to avoid in business, because they are considered difficult, unprofessional or they aren’t the concern of the work-place. Perhaps we have over-professionalised the workplace to the detriment of the human being in it?

If leaders are able to reflect care, it is easier to challenge our teams about their performance outcomes. This is because they feel that they matter as much as the business does – we all need to feel that what we contribute is important. Caring provides the conditions needed to explore, analyse, reflect and challenge at work. It provides the safety net needed to become fully involved in those activities which inherently carry significant personal risk (admitting that we might be wrong, need to change or adopt new skills) – because the situation is safe, and someone cares sufficiently about us to ensure the outcome will be positive and worth working hard for.

Engaging as a human being will get more from your people and therefore more success for your business. This really is worth doing, even if it goes against everything you’ve been taught about managers needing distance and emotional detachment (professionalism?)

Anecdotally, most people I speak to are able to recount a story where they have felt less than care and respect or compassion from their line managers. This may be rare for some, although where it is more consistent in leaders, we instinctively know it impacts on staff turnover and retention rates, complaints, grievances and general personnel issues in the workplace. These are all areas which impact significantly on successful business.

I passionately believe that over-professionalisation – detached, unemotional, back-stabbing management styles – have been condoned by the media and shows such as ‘The Apprentice’. Somehow, failure to build relationships with others, be accountable or support our team has become fashionable. I passionately advocate for the return of humanity to the core behaviours of leaders, because without this, we lose the very heart of most businesses – its people.

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