A Q&A with Amy Bradley

Feeling for another. A more ‘human’ workplace everyone loves.

Amy teaches, consults and researches on the topics of resilience; engagement and compassion at work. She is particularly interested in how crucible experiences in our personal lives, such as bereavement or critical illness, shape who we are and how we lead.

Amy Bradley

Hi Amy, why is compassion important to you?

Our workplaces have becoming increasingly transactional and de-humanized. I observe ‘busyness’ in organizations, which means people are so preoccupied with their own tasks and ‘to do’ lists, their capacity to notice and care for themselves is diminished. To make matters worse, our reliance on technology to communicate means that opportunities to connect and care for one another at a basic human level are also decreasing.

When I work with groups and teams, I can see how superficially they know their colleagues when it comes to their life journeys and the experiences that have shaped them. I see time and again that when we have the courage to disclose our struggles to our colleagues and we connect and care for one another, our work relationships profoundly deepen. For me, compassion is a core human value which is too often overlooked in business. Building more ‘human’ workplaces, which place individual well-being and engagement at the centre, are critical for us to develop more inclusive and more sustainable businesses.

How does the work on compassion link to your research on engagement?

Compassion is central to engagement. If people do not feel understood, cared for and valued at work, they are unlikely to engage. In workplaces where compassion is both espoused and embedded, organizations report superior financial performance, increased innovation, improved collaboration and teamwork, higher levels of customer service and customer advocacy.

There is growing evidence that kindness and positive relationships lie at the heart of our well-being, engagement and performance at work. Compassion is fast becoming a business imperative, since it is not money or career success that makes us happy. It is the relationships we have with friends, colleagues and loved ones that are the key to life satisfaction. Close social bonds help us to cope with life’s ups and downs; they slow down our mental and physical decline and are better predictors of life expectancy and happiness than class, IQ and genes combined.

What have been the most mind-blowing moments of your career?

Wow! What a question. I’ll answer this on a deeply personal level. Whether we are aged 18 or 80, each of us will have experienced defining moments in our life journeys. These ‘watershed’ events can profoundly shape us and I am reminded of the power of life experiences each time I recount my own. When people ask me about my most powerful learning experiences in my career to date, I don’t tend to think about what I have learned on the job, or in the classroom, I tell them about a period of traumatic and intense suffering in my personal life, when I experienced compassion at work first-hand.

In my early thirties and six months pregnant with my daughter, my partner at the time was killed in a freak accident. In the months that followed, I sleep-walked through a fog of grief. I barely functioned. I existed from day to day, discombobulated as I simultaneously struggled to come to terms with bereavement and motherhood. However, during this time, I experienced many acts of kindness, which have stayed with me, and have strengthened my relationships at home and at work. This experience showed me the power and importance of compassion.

What happens to a team that lacks compassion?

Working people often spend as much time with their colleagues as they do with family members; therefore, the way in which we support individuals both formally (through company policies and procedures) and informally (as colleagues and friends) is a critical business issue. In consciously compassionate companies, role-model kindness of team leaders and the connections between team members are strong. When compassion is lacking and teams find themselves working in a negative emotional climate, there are often high levels of mistrust. This then leads to stress-related absence and burnout becoming rife as team members feel unable to surface their struggles.

How can you change that?

The quality of team leadership, levels of psychological safety and the presence of colleague support are critical. The extent to which we are supported, trusted and empowered by our manager; the support we receive from our colleagues; and how safe we feel to bring our ‘whole selves’ to work are some of the strongest predictors of team engagement. We can also help ourselves and each other to be more human, by taking the time each day to connect and care for one another.

What would you do if you were in charge?

The only thing I am in charge of (or wish to be in charge of for that matter) are the choices I make and the way I relate. I try to live my life with connection and compassion. I try to make time for a human moment every day. It is amazing what happens when you ask someone how they are and are genuinely interested in their response. If we listen without judgment and are open and attentive to the experiences they share, there is so much we can learn. Human moments are opportunities for us to acknowledge that to be human is to suffer. We are all cut from the same cloth and we are not alone.

Hult International Business School
Hult International Business School
Ashridge Executive Education