Cultivating more caring workplaces

[Photos by Josh Barrett/Courtesy of Denver Institute for Faith & Work] Dave Runyon urges businesses to take small steps to demonstrate care for employees.

Businesses encouraged to recognize, support workers with win-win strategies

Taking time to implement caring workplace cultures is both a spiritual issue and a practical business concern. “Each person in our organization is created in the image of God and we are all called to love them,” Abby World said at the Denver Institute for Faith & Work’s annual Business for the Common Good conference. “The benefits, the systems, the policies we have in our workplaces can be a vehicle for loving them.”

World, the institute’s vice-president of operations and finance, made the comments during a panel discussion on cultivating more caring workplaces. “The state of the American workforce is grim,” she said. “Over 38 million people left their jobs over the past year, and there have been more people resigning each month than any year on record.”

“Many business leaders… are really struggling to attract and retain a quality workforce.” Given those realities, a caring work environment can be a business distinctive “that not only fulfils that (Christian) call to others, but also helps to retain a really strong workforce for your company.”

Small steps to demonstrate care for employees are better than grand visions that “will never hit the ground,” Dave Runyon said.
Runyon is founder and executive director of Denver-based CityUnite, which helps government, business, and faith leaders unite around common causes. A former pastor, he also co-authored the book The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door.

Something as simple as remembering people’s names can be a good start, he said. “If you want to start a movement, the key isn’t to set the bar high. The key is to set the bar so low that people can’t crawl underneath it.” Runyon gave conference attendees a list of seven ideas to consider and challenged them to consider implementing one of them in the coming year. (See sidebar below)

“What we are trying to do is to create a sense of belonging, a sense of trust in the places where we work.” Pat Riley believes in checking in with staff by taking time to ask them about both their personal and work lives. He begins by asking whether they are feeling red, yellow, or green.

Riley heads the Global Accelerator Network, a group of business accelerators, startups, and organizations spanning six continents and more than 100 cities around the world. He is also managing partner of GAN Ventures, which provides seed-stage capital to startups around the globe.

Pat Riley (second from right) models self-care as a leader.

In Riley’s color check-in, red means that employees are in a crisis moment. Yellow means they are doing okay but not great.
Over the past two years of asking the question, he has found that “how people are doing personally is typically how they are doing at work.”

“I’ve found over and over again that it has been a season of yellow.” Quoting author Adam Grant, he noted that many people have been languishing during the pandemic.

As a leader, Riley recognizes that he has the choice to put up a wall between himself and a struggling employee, or he can have empathy. “But when we have empathy, it requires giving up a piece of ourselves to that thing.”

Riley has called a number of CEO friends recently to ask about their stress levels. He found that most of them are dealing with a moderate to extreme amount of anxiety every day. In order to have the ability to keep leaning into empathy, he takes a three-step approach to caring for himself.

First, he manages his calendar with daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. Riley ensures that three hours in his workday have no meetings. Every Friday, he schedules in time for reading, thinking, and praying. Each month, he takes two Fridays off. He also takes two to four weeks a year away from work to refresh.

“The second thing I do is, I always have something to look forward to.”

The third thing he does is to name the emotions he is feeling, to take their power away. He cited Philippians 4:6 about the need to bring petitions before God.

Many factors make it difficult for leaders to stay in relationships when under stress. Remote working has reduced opportunities to check in with employees, and labor shortages have forced many to do more with less, leading to more of a task orientation, Tracy Matthews noted. “No wonder people are depleted and languishing,” she said.

Tracy Matthews promotes spiritually attuned leadership.

Internal stress and anxieties related to isolation also amplify people’s tendencies to put walls up, said Matthews, who heads Attune. Attune is an organization designed to help teams and individuals cultivate spiritually attuned leadership. Following the practices that Pat Riley mentioned require discipline, she noted.

“It takes intentionality to create space for that kind of relational connection, but the fruit (of doing so) is so needed today.”
Matthews promotes an attunement model that will allow people to hear from God.

Spiritual connection comes from skills, postures, muscles, and practices that are learned with intentional practice, she said.
Those skills are learned both alone and in community.

For Tony Julianelle of Atlas Real Estate, employee empowerment means giving people permission to make mistakes. “If you’re not failing, you’re not bringing your whole self to work,” he said.

Leaders can only support their workers if they have something in the tank rather than running on empty, he said. That means integrating their hearts and souls, not just their minds.

Panelists Abby World, Chris Chancey and Tony Julianelle discuss creating more caring workplaces.

“You have the opportunity to be a non-anxious presence. The more you show up as a leader as a non-anxious presence, to be authentically a non-anxious presence… that just instills a lot of confidence.” Atlas, which is an investment-focused real estate firm, has a talent and culture department instead of a human resources department. “I just don’t like thinking of humans as resources.”

Understanding the effectiveness of employee engagement efforts comes from asking workers how they feel, he said. “We take that feedback really seriously.”

Chris Chancey is founder and executive director of Amplio Recruiting, an Atlanta-based firm that finds jobs for refugees. As a seminary student, he began to consider concepts of work, stewardship, and generosity.

After returning to Atlanta, his family eventually moved into a neighborhood filled with refugees and was continually asked if he could help people find a job.

Since 2014, Amplio has placed 8,000 refugees in jobs in 20 cities across the US. Chancey has worked with 300 firms across the US in all industries. Too often, employee care is operated somewhat like a restaurant, with a one-size-fits-all model, he said.

“In the work environment, we have to start thinking about customization, what fits for the employee in front of us,” he said. That means businesses thinking about employee care need to operate more like a hospital floor, something that Chancey conceded can be hard to do. While this approach can be more expensive and messier, it pays off he said. “You get to keep people for a lot longer. Retention rates go through the roof because there’s some individual engagement and connection.”

“The more you show up as a leader as a non-anxious presence, to be authentically a non-anxious presence… that just instills a lot of confidence.”

— Tony Julianelle, Atlas Real Estate
Chris Chancey’s firm finds jobs for refugees.

For many of the people Chancey places in jobs, USA stands for “U Start Again.” Those people are in an unstable place in their life. So something as simple as a business card, a uniform, a locker with their name on it can give them a sense of connection and belonging, he said. “It can be really small, but it communicates something that’s much bigger. It communicates that stability; you want everyone to feel like they belong.

“If that’s your goal, there’s some creative ways of doing that that really doesn’t even cost that much.” Taking a “roll out the red carpet” approach, ensuring that workers understand “we’re going to love you as much on the way in as on the way out (to a different job)” changes the models, structures, and decisions that firms make, he said. “That plays into the long-term reputation you have in your community.”


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