Chapter 4: Caring

There are two important components of caring to highlight. First, the definition within the workplace. Caring means leading out of compassion, rather than explicit job duties; it means building relationships, and trust (more on that later!) between the employee and the leader (Johanssen et al., 2021; Ley, 2023; McCartney & Parent). The definition may vary a little from one organization to another but the key is a positive relationship between the leadership and those being led.

A caring, authentic, and meaningful workplace is important for employees to feel satisfied committed to their job (Johanssen et al., 2021). However, the second part of caring is to set boundaries. Effective, clear boundaries are important in a caring relationship. These are guidelines for effective communication, relationship management, and a positive work culture. Boundaries can take many forms, take a moment to reflect on your boundaries in these areas:

  • Do you work without compensation? Are you asked to do this?
  • Do your supervisors share enough information to be relatable? Do they overshare?
  • Do you take a lunch break?
  • Do you gossip?
  • Do you respect others boundaries – including physical, emotional, and even conversational?
  • Do you honor the time constraints of a meeting?
  • Is the communication consistent from one manager to another?

Engaging in Empathy

As you begin to form your personal definition of care, ethics, and the relationship with the workplace, remember empathy plays a role in interpersonal communication (Matkin et al., 2023). Empathy is defined as “sensing and imagining the feelings of others” (Johanssen et al., 2021; Matkin et al., 2023).  It is uniquely a human ability to connect with another human’s internal state. Sensing the feelings of your employees, without crossing the aforementioned boundaries, will increase your level of empathy as a leader and employees will be more likely to be invested in the organization if they feel connected to the leadership.

Fagan et al. in Matkin’s et al.’s book “Developing Human Potential” (2023) offer another valuable leadership characteristic and potential alternative to empathy: rational compassion.

Rational compassion encourages people to utilize rational thinking (e.g., cost-benefit analysis) to decide what is the right thing to do and then to utilize compassion to motivate yourself to follow through on doing the right thing. An additional limitation of empathy is that we can become so consumed in what other people are feeling and experiencing that we are emotionally overwhelmed, an experience to which people in care giving professions can be particularly susceptible. What do these potential pitfalls of empathy teach us? Empathy is necessary for interpersonal relationships, allowing us to understand the feelings and experiences of others; however, empathy is not a cure-all solution for the cultural challenges we face. By understanding the potential limitations of empathy, as well as the numerous strengths of empathy, we can more effectively utilize it to build relationships and foster understanding.

So, how do we demonstrate empathy? Assess yourself on these qualities as you view the video below, rating how well on a scale of 1 to 10 you demonstrate these behaviors. Where can you improve? What do you do well already?

  • Active Listening
  • Mindfulness
  • Appropriate Body Language
  • Meditation

Final Thoughts on Care and Ethics

Human well-being is a group effort; everyone is responsible for strong relationships and concern for each other. Helping others by identifying, evaluating, and improving relationships will only improve the workplace. Moreover, the evaluation process will lead to more proactive behavior where needs are addressed with practical actions (Ley, 2023). While “care” is often an engendered topic, loosely associated with all things feminine, it is a “morally valuable” asset in the workplace when applied properly (Chadha-Sridhar, 2023).

So we know what are “good workplaces”, right? Why are there still bad jobs? Bad leadership? Unfortunately, while we know what’s right, the wrong cannot easily be undone. It is not uncommon for these issues to be ignored or minimally addressed (Montogomery & Lainidi, 2023). Ultimately: the culture has to change in order for care, ethical behavior, and other positive opportunities to flourish in the workplace (Montogomery & Lainidi, 2023). Each workplace must commit to appreciate and value the differences, encouraging genuine interdisciplinary collaboration, where ethics and care are addressed as an organization rather than on an individual basis. The culture must change (Montogomery & Lainidi, 2023).


Chadha-Sridhar, I. (2023). Care as a thick ethical concept. Res Publica, 29.

Johansson, J., & Edwards, M. (2021). Exploring caring leadership through a feminist ethic of care: The case of a sporty CEO. SAGE, 17(3).

Ley, M. (2023). Care ethics and the future of work: A different voice. Philosophy & Technology, 36(7).

Matkin, G., Headrick, J., & Sunderman, H. (2023). Developing human potential. Retrieved on October 11, 2023 from

McCartney, S., & Parent, R. (n.d.). Ethics in law enforcement. Retrieved on October 11, 2023 from

Montgomery, A., & Lainidi, O. (2023). Creating healthy workplaces in healthcare: Are we delaying progress by focusing on what we can do rather than what we should do? Frontiers in Public Health, 11.

TED (2019). This is what makes employees happy at work [Video]. YouTube.

TED (2023). Your 3-step guide to setting better boundaries at work [Video]. YouTube.


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Leadership Ethics by Andrea Bearman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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