As a well-being coach, I’m passionate about helping organisations and leaders create a culture of CARE. Why? Because a caring culture leads to a positive and supportive work environment that prioritises all employees’ mental health and well-being.

I support this positive psychology concept developed by Michelle McQuaid and The Leaders Lab so much that I built my Leading Well coaching program on the principle.

But what does it mean to build a culture of CARE? This article explores how leaders and organisations can improve psychological safety by creating a caring workplace.

So, what is the culture of CARE principle?

This workplace philosophy champions collaboration, mutual respect and shared decision-making. 

CARE stands for:

Compassion: Leaders reach for curiosity and generosity over assumptions and judgement.

Appreciation: Leaders encourage asking for and giving help.

Responsibility: Leaders invite ownership, clarify commitment and hold people accountable.

Emotional Wisdom: Leaders view all emotions as information to be understood.

The importance of leadership in creating a culture of CARE

According to Tracey Brower, PhD, in her Forbes article, “…data suggests that for almost 70% of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor—and it’s equal to the impact of their partner.”

Leaders must understand the importance of fostering mental well-being. Leaders have the power to shape the work environment and positively impact their employees’ mental health — both inside and outside the workplace.

What are the benefits of leaders implementing a culture of CARE?

Adopting behaviours that promote a culture of CARE can improve psychological safety and organisational outcomes. Psychological safety refers to a culture where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgement or negative consequences. Research shows leaders can create a high-performing work environment by developing specific skills.

Benefits of a culture of CARE may include:

  • Increased employee engagement and satisfaction 
  • Improved job confidence 
  • Better work-life balance 
  • Clearer communication and increased collaboration among employees. 

Additionally, employers can reap the rewards of improved innovation, better problem-solving and decision-making skills and higher productivity levels within their workforce.

A caring workplace culture requires leaders to prioritise a positive emotional culture consistently. To achieve results and drive meaningful change, leaders need to embed the CARE principle into organisational processes, team practices and their own behaviour.

Leaders must focus on listening and communicating openly, addressing issues quickly, setting expectations at all organisational levels, and cultivating a culture of innovation and collaboration. Empathy is also vital — when people understand each other’s emotions and needs, they’re more likely to work together towards a common goal.

Why is a Culture of CARE important for overwhelmed social workers?

Social workers are increasingly overwhelmed. Rising service demands and a lack of resources mean practitioners are stretched to their limits. A culture of CARE can help ensure practitioners are supported, respected, and encouraged to develop strong relationships with their leaders and colleagues. An environment based on collaboration and support rather than competition and fear fosters a healthy and productive work culture.

Practical tips for incorporating a culture of CARE in your workplace

Show support for your staff

Offering emotional and social support for your staff is a great way to build a culture of CARE. 

Ensure that workers feel supported and have access to the psychological resources they need. 

Equip managers with the tools necessary to focus on their team’s mental health and provide regular one-on-one check-in sessions. 

Listen to your staff’s concerns and consider how workloads may impact their well-being. Appreciate their efforts by recognising them publicly and providing incentives for demonstrating CARE behaviours.

Establish an open communication policy.

Develop a culture where individuals feel comfortable expressing their feelings and needs. Provide outlets for employees to communicate concerns or address questions. Use team meetings, regular check-ins, anonymous surveys, or online forums to ensure everyone feels heard. Additionally, create non-judgemental spaces where staff can access support without fear of judgement or stigma.

Give employees greater control over their work and environment

We all need to feel like we have some control over our work environment. Giving employees freedom and ownership within their roles can make all the difference in reducing stress and feelings of helplessness. 

Leaders can nurture freedom by allowing employees to self-schedule their workday or solve problems. This autonomy gives people confidence, encourages more idea generation and increases overall productivity.

Identify, address and prevent job burnout through an all-encompassing wellness strategy

An effective wellness strategy should include flexible policies that enable workers to achieve optimal work-life balance. These policies could include access to excellent mental health services, an organisational commitment to a safe work environment, and avenues to de-stress through physical activity. This must accompany an open dialogue between leaders and employees to identify burnout triggers, update procedures, and add benefits. 

It’s also important to recognise the signs of job burnout in practitioners and provide resources to build resilience. Also, preventive measures, such as flexible work hours or ensuring organisational practices support good working habits, can function as a buffer against the risks associated with burnout. Effective supervision and caseload management are also critical elements that can contribute to sustainable wellbeing.

Develop space to discuss workplace culture and foster relationships between colleagues

Creating an environment of trust and respect is essential for practitioner well-being. Providing colleagues with space to openly discuss workplace culture and foster relationships establishes a sense of community. This can help prevent burnout by reducing feelings of overwhelm or isolation. 

Consider implementing a peer-support program that allows workers to provide positive support to one another or create opportunities to recognise co-workers’ accomplishments. Additionally, encourage social connections between staff members outside the workplace by arranging team-building activities or volunteering.

There’s no quick fix to the burnout epidemic facing our social workers. Improvement involves systemic changes and organisational commitment. But recognising the critical role leaders play in their staff’s well-being and educating companies on the benefits of a workplace that lives a culture of CARE is an excellent place to start.