What did their Insensitivity Cost Them?

Pain costs our companies billions every year. Trauma is bad enough but when leaders make insensitive decisions it increases the intensity of the pain.

We have to ask, “What did their insensitivity cost them?”

This is a true story. I wish it wasn’t

Those of you who follow me know that I work to help leaders think bigger and reach higher to do what others never thought possible. I write about creating cutting-edge cultures that are driven by connection, compassion and collaboration.

With hurricane season starting on June 1, I’m reminded of this story and it still makes me cringe. How could leadership have been so callous?

Hurricane Irma 2017

Hurricane Irma was one of the fiercest storms on record as it approached the Florida coast two years ago. It was already a Category 5 hurricane, the top level possible and had already devastated St. Martin, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The path was uncertain as it approached the Florida coast. At first it looked like it would make landfall at Miami and obliterate everything in its path as it moved up the east coast. Then it wobbled and eventually moved west. At one point, it appeared that it would make landfall in Tampa.

Since we live in Tampa, we were watching it closely. The mayor of Tampa knew this was the worst case scenario for the city because of the low lying downtown.

With the dire prediction, officials shut down cities and almost the entire state. Schools and businesses closed. Those in the most vulnerable areas were forced to evacuate their homes. In the end, 6.5 million people evacuated and another 77 thousand went to shelters.

We know because we left for Alabama because Irma was projected to be a Category 3 by the time it struck Tampa after making landfall 100 miles south.

You can imagine the fear.

We first feared for our physical safety. Then we feared for our property. We also didn’t want our family in other states to worry about our safety. Next, we were concerned about our comfort. If we stayed, we knew there were going to be power outages. It would be hot and sticky without electricity. Also, food and water supplies would be scarce if we stayed.

Floridians knew all too well the threat Irma posed because they remember the four hurricanes of 2004 and several others.

In anticipation of the storm, as noted above, almost all businesses closed. This is where the repulsive side of this story arises.

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A Callous Act

As we were doing our ongoing research for our books, my wife hear the following story.

One law firm contacted their employees on the Friday before the storm telling them that all staff were required to report for work. While neighbors were packing up or preparing their homes, they had to go to work.

Upon arriving, they noticed that none of the attorneys were present. They soon found out that attorneys were told they were not needed.

The staff were then told to secure their attorney’s offices by clearing belongings away from the windows, off the walls and packed safely in an interior space.

The staff were required to report only to take care of the attorney’s belongings while the attorney’s were free to take care of their own affairs.

The lack of compassion in this story is appalling. It is beyond callous to demand that your employees sacrifice their well-being to take care of your affairs while you are not helping.

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What Did it Cost Them?

The way my wife heard about this story was that she interviewed one of their employees for a job. You guessed it, one of those individuals who was called in to secure the attorney’s belongings said “That’s it, I’m done” and started looking for another job.

Callous and insensitive behavior costs companies in performance, production and profit. In this case, at least one person left. Turnover alone costs companies in a variety of ways (not to mention absenteeism and presenteeism. Before leaving, the soon to be former employee costs the company in

  • reduced performance,
  • decreased production,
  • increased errors,
  • loss of morale among other employees,
  • decreased engagement.

Hiring for another employee costs in

  • advertising,
  • interviewing,
  • training,
  • lost production, and
  • time to ramp up production.

But then let’s look bigger.

  • With that culture, how likely are they to create a cutting-edge culture?
  • How quickly will they be able to adapt to disruptive trends?
  • How well can they build a team that overcomes serious obstacles?

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A Much Better Option

In our book The ROI of Compassion and our, LEADING with the POWER of COMPASSION, we detail how compassion is the best business model and practice. This story shows why. To build a cutting-edge culture, we leverage our power by coming alongside our team to help alleviate their pain. That means anticipating the pain they could experience.

These attorneys didn’t care about their employee’s pain. Reporting wasn’t an option for the staff who had family and residences to take care of, just as the attorneys did.

To be compassionate, the attorneys needed to communicate earlier in the week, listen for the pain, and be the voices of safety, comfort and reason. Instead, they chose to inflict pain when their employees were already hurting. That was simply cruel and cowardly.

Fortunately, Tampa was spared from a Cat 3 but never-the-less, over 7.7 million homes lost power. Many in the Tampa Bay area were without power for 7 days.

  • I wonder what, if anything, those attorneys did to help those employees endure the storm.
  • I also wonder what other things they demanded of their employees when returning from the storm.
  • Then I wonder how that insensitivity caused the attorneys pain later.
  • In the two years since Irma, I wonder how many of those staff members left for other jobs.
  • Do we wonder if those attorneys even understand why?

How much better things would be if those attorneys used the disaster to build a cutting-edge culture. Imagine if they had taken the time and effort to sense the pain of their employees. Imagine what would have happened if they worked as a team to secure the office and then help each other at their homes. Might they enjoyed the benefits the way the United Bulk Handling Center did after Hurricane Katrina? (Read their story in The ROI of Compassion. )

2019 has already seen an overly active tornado season that has devastated many communities east of the Rocky Mountains to the Northeast. The lack of rain causes authorities to predict many wildfires in the west. The warming oceans and Gulf of Mexico leave those of us in Florida and the Gulf Coast fearful of what could be. As leaders and managers, take the time to prepare for a natural disaster. Be sure to build it around compassion. In the end, that is what will best ensure your company survives and thrives the storm.

(c) 2019 Murfield International, Inc.




Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

I work with leaders and organizations think bigger and reach higher to find breakthrough success. This is a process that I can help you learn. Begin the process today by contacting me. 

Start learning how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION.” Watch for the formal release of our new book, “Leading with the Power of Compassion” in July, 2019. (Soft release at the SHRM19 conference in June.)

ROI of Compassion 2018

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