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This is part of a series looking at microskills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

"I need you to..."

These four words trigger different emotions in employees. For employees with a compassionate leader, they know that what will be asked of them will be reasonable and will be factored into their overall workload.

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But for employees working with leaders who have little compassion, these words trigger stress and anxiety regarding the expectation of what will follow.

For example, employees see these requests to do additional tasks as undesirable because they know it will only add more to their heavy workload. As a result, over time employees will conclude that the leader assigning this additional work lacks compassion, as that person doesn't care how hard it is for employees to complete what's suddenly added to their plate, or the impact it has on an employees' lives.

This microskill focuses on using compassion as a guide when assigning employees additional work above and beyond their current work load.

The manager-employee relationship is a critical building block to maximize work force productivity. Leaders committed to being compassionate when assigning work can, over time, increase employee's loyalty more than by how much they pay in compensation.

The degree of compassion the employee perceives their boss typically demonstrates will define the employee's perception of how much the leader values, cares and respects the employee.

Leaders with high levels of compassion consistently demonstrate empathy by showing they care how the additional work may impact employees. They partner with employees to determine the best and most reasonable way to get an additional work request done. They empower employees to be a part of the decision-making process. Their end goal is to simply get the work done without creating unnecessary stress. The leader ensures that employees are clear about why that additional work request is being made and why they, in particular, are being asked to help get it done.

Leaders with low levels of compassion when assigning work often build resentment that erodes the employee's trust and confidence. The lower the compassion, the greater the risk a leader's actions will lead to preseenteeism, voluntary turnover, and unresolved conflict.

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Here is a compassionate checklist for leaders to use to ensure they're thinking of their staff as they make special requests.

Act as though every request is being videotaped.

Imagine every time you make a request to any one you are being videotaped and these video are going directly to your boss for evaluation. This mindset can help promote the choice to use positive and supportive language as well as ask questions instead of just making statements. If you are compassionate when you give employees instructions, this can help build loyalty and can help increase productivity. The more positive the interaction the higher the likelihood the law of reciprocity will influence the employee's behaviour positively. This law teaches that when a human being treats another well the typical person has an internal drive to do something positive in return, such as complete an assigned task well and willingly.

Think about what one more thing may mean.

Most employees when given a request above and beyond their assigned work see it as just one more thing on their ever-growing to-do list. Compassionate leaders pay attention to how many 'more' tasks are being added. It only takes a few seconds to make a request which could require a few hours of work to complete. Asking an employee to do 10 things at once is less effective than asking them to do two or three things well.

Check in how requests are being received.

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Compassionate leaders know they are often not doing the work – just assigning it. But by monitoring how additional requests are being received and their potential impact on staff demonstrates to employees that you care. Checking in and asking how the day or week has gone and the impact the additional assignment is having on them and their workload demonstrates that you care and if the workload being placed on staff makes sense with the company's current resources.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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