When David was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2000, we promptly put the word out to family, friends, neighbors and colleagues, asking them to send their prayers and positive energy our way. We heard back from nearly all of them, pledging their caring love and support, along with a few offers of back rubs and hot meals!
One individual, however, a consultant friend, advised David to keep quiet about his predicament, as colleagues, co-workers and clients would perceive him as weak and potentially ineffectual. We were both appalled by this advice, thinking that it was simply human nature to reach out with care and compassion, rather than judgment or rejection when learning about the plight of another. Imagine how shocked we were when David was fired from a plant manager job he held at the time, with some lame excuse about cutting back on costs!
This issue is deeply related to our May 10, 2016 blog titled, “What Are We Hiding – Or Hiding From?” In that piece, we referenced a study by the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion that looked at the degree to which individuals engage in covering at work, along four axes: Appearance, Affiliation, Advocacy, and Association. That research also highlighted the huge costs - monetary, as well as personal and societal – associated with the failure to show up as who we are in the workplace.
What this research failed to identify as another costly covering up issue is that of hiding our suffering. According to recent research by Ireland’s National Disability Authority (NDA), many people “do not disclose chronic medical conditions and hidden disabilities to employers for fear they will be labelled, treated differently or jeopardise their future career prospects.” Their research shows that people fear disclosing all kinds of conditions including “diabetes, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary illness, dementia and mental health problems, asthma and muscoloskeletal diseases such as arthritis as examples. Other chronic illnesses that people try to hide in the workplace include migraine, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cancer, glaucoma and Crohn’s disease.” This, say the researchers, “is not purely an Irish phenomenon, it’s worldwide. They are worried about stigma and concerned that they will not be considered promotable.”
There are obviously huge losses associated with covering up suffering to those experiencing illnesses, as well as those going through the illness or loss of family members and friends. Workplaces, of course, incur the costs associated with lost time, productivity and healthcare costs, some related to the stress and anxiety that goes along with individuals trying to hide what is really going on in their lives.
It may be, however, that the greatest cost is the lost opportunity to create a caring and compassionate workplace where people can show up in the fullness of their humanity. As researcher Jane Dutton of the University of Michigan Ross School’s Center for Positive Business and her colleague, Monica Worline of Stanford University reported at the School’s recent Positive Business Conference, there are enormous benefits of creating compassionate workplaces for both the individual and the enterprise. Individuals can become more resilient, healthier and happier, as well as enjoying strengthened connections to each other, to co-workers and to humanity as a whole. Organizations benefit from:
· Greater capacity to deliver on service quality
· Heightened innovation capability
· More capable of agility and adaptability to change
· Improved capacity for recruiting & retaining talent
· Deepened engagement of both employees & clients
In a time when organizations are searching for strategic competitive advantage, Dutton and Worline suggest that creating compassionate workplaces is worth consideration.
One can only imagine what that might mean for people who feel that they are forced to leave their suffering at the door when they show up for work.
Take a look at the National Disability Authority research at:
To learn more about research by Jane Dutton and Monica Worline, go to:
To receive a copy of the “Embodying Compassion” chapter of our book, The Transformative Workplace: Growing People, Purpose, Prosperity and Peace, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org