Helena Clayton | Blocks to love at work


Blocks to love at work

07 Jan 2018, Posted by Helena Clayton in Work as Love in Action

Sometimes I am not as nice as I could be or would like to be. Not as kind or compassionate or loving.

And I find this hard to handle as these are values that are core to me. Increasingly, I try to put love at the centre of my decisions and action and thought. Yet I am not always loving.

Just before Christmas 2018, I was at the Creating Compassionate Workplaces event at Roffey Park, where, with a range of speakers and practitioners from leadership and OD, we explored ways that we might create workplace cultures and practices that were compassionate.

When we are working longer hours, have complex and competing needs across our wider lives and when 1 in 4 of will experience a mental health issue each year, this feels like something vital to explore.  When it feels like the workplace is becoming more constraining, when metaphors of ‘Victorian workhouses’ feel increasingly apt, when we are asked to do increasingly more with usually less…if not now, when?

What is it?

Compassion is sometimes described as ‘love in action’ and it’s the in action bit that feels so key for me. Sure, I can think compassionate and loving thoughts but if that doesn’t translate into saying or doing loving things, or responding to someone in a loving way …well, what’s the point?

At the conference I was interested in what organisations were doing to create more compassionate cultures. But I realised I was perhaps most interested in the individual choices we have – how compassionate cultures are made up of compassionate actions from each of us, leaders, or not.

And I wondered what sort of micro culture I was creating around me, in my own internal system and with the people immediately around me. What was I doing to create a compassionate culture?


This ‘micro climate’ theme is front of mind for me right now. You’ll know that I have been very influenced by Meg Wheatley’s latest book, where she recognises the futility in trying to change global systems and, instead, encourages us to do what we can, with who we can, when we can – to create ‘islands of sanity’ in our more immediate world. And a recent blog by Sharon Salzberg, from the (fabulous) On Being website, talks about our ‘three feet of influence’ – the space where we can control what happens. ‘The world we can most try to affect is the one immediately around us’, says Sharon.

So in relation to compassion, can I take responsibility for my own actions? Can I, as the Al Anon 12 Step approach encourages us to do ‘clean up my side of the street’? Or, as the poet David Whyte asks us to do …’start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing, close in ….

At the conference, we touched briefly on what blocks us from being more compassionate.  Roffey Park’s research identified things like:

  • Feeling that being compassionate isn’t acceptable in the workplace and it isn’t seen as part of the job
  • Pressure from senior managers to be focused on outputs and getting the job done and not on how people feel
  • Policies and procedures not being sufficiently flexible to adapt to the needs of an individual


But I have my own list. I know I am not loving and not compassionate when I:

  • am so busy that I ricochet from one thing to the next without even the time to notice when someone might require a loving response.
  • think that my stuff, my work, my needs are so much more important than someone else’s
  • feel that my own needs are not being met. When I’m not feeling well resourced and topped up, then I notice I can operate from deficit and not abundance and I am more cold and withholding. I can lack generosity, and find it more difficult to emphasise with others
  • when I assume that people are fine and not, instead, possibly dealing with issues, with pain and with suffering that I know nothing about
  • let my shadow parts of vindictiveness, jealousy and fear be in the driving seat

It’s not a pretty picture. I don’t like those responses of mine. But I also know that the more I can clearly see and own my own stuff about what gets in my way, the greater the chances of being able to make a conscious loving choice instead of a reactive and unloving one.

So, for me, when I:

  • slow down, I am more likely to notice that someone is in pain or difficulty.
  • walk in someone else’s shoes, I can see that the world looks different from where they stand.
  • tell my own ego to sit down and shut up for a while, I can see that others have greater need of my love than of a clever or superior reply.
  • practice self compassion, I am more likely to be able to demonstrate it towards others.

Every little helps. I hope.

So what stops you from being more compassionate and as loving as you’d want to be, and what’s your remedy? And if we were as compassionate as we would like to be, what might be created around us? I’d love to hear from you.

Extra stuff

You can find the excellent Research Paper from Roffey Park here and also a link to their Compassion at Work Toolkit and you can complete their Compassion Index here.

I am currently researching Leadership and Love and what might be possible in organisations if we led from love.  The survey is here – I’d love to hear your responses and would really love you to complete it .  Also, I’m running a Leading from Love workshop as part of Meaning Conference 2018 and you can find the details and sign up to come along here.  

Finally, you can find me on Twitter at @HelenaClayton and read more from me on helena@helenaclayton.co.uk.

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