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The Best Gift for Someone Whose Holidays May Be Less than Merry

We’ve all heard the saying, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  I’ll add my own corollary, “And that battle gets tougher around the holidays.”  I myself have a complicated relationship with the holiday season because of loss, and I’ve learned that I’m not all that unusual.  In fact, there’s a good chance one of your employees or co-workers experiences difficulty with the yuletide season, too.

I’d like to offer that a precious gift that you can give to those around you at work who are suffering or have experienced loss is that of compassion and empathy Maybe you’re skeptical that caring has a place at work—you’re not alone.

[M]any workers say their employers remain silent and uncaring in the face of suffering, perhaps because they believe work life and home life should be kept separate, or because they fear making a mistake in offering support. This is completely the wrong approach, though, according to Worline and Dutton. They point to a growing body of research that suggests attending to suffering at work doesn’t hinder an organization, but helps it. Responding compassionately to workers not only improves their performance and loyalty, but also creates an atmosphere that is safe for learning, collaboration, and innovation—which all impact the bottom line.  (Suttie, 2017)

The Worline and Dutton approach mentioned above refers to the book Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations.  In it, the authors make a powerful case for taking care of employees not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it fosters a culture of excellence.  If we are sensitive, we will begin to see opportunities to express compassion for those around us at work.

The response to a hurting employee or co-worker should be individualized, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Though this will not always be possible, consider offering flexibility in deadlines or facilitate task redistribution if someone is temporarily struggling to get work done.
  2. If an individual is a verbal processor, lend a listening ear (and then really listen).
  3. Be inclusive in invitations to holiday events but understanding if somebody needs to bow out.
  4. Finally, never underestimate simple tangible expressions of compassion, such as a gift card to a favorite restaurant, a surprise peppermint latte, or a handwritten note acknowledging the difficult season.

As a leader, recognize that you set the tone for compassion at work and create an environment of excellence where employee care is valued by everyone.  Especially during this festive and busy season, this is one way that you can stand out as a leader worth following.

From all of us at Milestone Leadership, have a blessed Christmas.


Suttie, Jill.  (2017)  How to Awaken Compassion at Work.  Greater Good Magazine.  Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_awaken_compassion_at_work.


Carla Swearingen, Ph.D. 
Associate – Milestone Leadership

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