Bringing Compassion into the Workplace

“Compassion is the key. While empathy is the tendency to feel others’ emotions and take them on as if you were feeling them, compassion is the intent to contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. Compassion, therefore, is more proactive, which means we can make a habit of it. By doing so, we can counter the loss of empathy that results from holding power, and in turn enable better leadership and human connections at work.”

 -Harvard Business Review

Among emotion researchers, Compassion is defined as the” feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” Compassion involves a deep desire to help others and nurture their well-being, and as we have seen in our discussion on positivity, having a positive effect on others creates a positive emotional response internally and externally. When we treat ourselves and others compassionately, we tend to come together in a collaborative manner that boosts the group as a whole. With this, deep relationships are formed, trust is established, and a willingness to collaborate on projects and shared visions is cultivated. When people come together in a supportive environment, and they feel safe from competition, there is less fear of failure, which results in greater courage. These are all helpful qualities to have in any work environment and can directly impact a company’s bottom line.

The Benefits of a Compassionate Workplace

Many people can relate to the scenario of having to ask your boss off for a personal issue and feeling anxious about it because you weren’t sure if they were going to be angry that you’re missing work. However, many of us can also remember a time when that manager responded compassionately and helped you take care of whatever was going on in your personal life with care and concern. What kind of impact did that have on you and your relationship with your manager? Did you feel like they valued you as an employee? Did you feel a sense of loyalty toward them? All of the feelings that resulted from your manager’s compassionate response can directly impact the bottom line of an organization, suggests a growing body of research. 

Managers often think that creating a cut-throat, do or die environment at work makes employees work harder and provide results. However, what it actually does is creates stressed employees who look for other jobs in many scenarios. In fact,  52 percent of employees report that workplace stress has led them to look for a new job, decline a promotion, or leave a job. Also, employees often feel disengaged, and don’t believe their supervisors appreciate their talents and skills, understand the difficulties of their work, or care about their personal issues. 

Additionally, personal issues—such as a death in the family, health issues, divorce etc.—also cause emotional turmoil that inevitably spills into the workplace. However, many employees say their managers don’t say anything and are seem to not care, perhaps because they fear appearing weak. Was Gandhi weak because he was compassionate? Most would argue no. In fact, he fiercely united his people, stood firm for peace and freedom, and enhanced the human condition for everyone. Don’t you want to be that kind of leader to your people? In an article by Medium, Lionel Valdellon stated:

Skills like compassion and empathy aren’t “soft” skills, they’re power skills;Because these skills empower your people to be their best, which in turn leads to powerful, and tangible, business results.

Thus, being aware and attending to stress and suffering at work doesn’t weaken a team or company, but helps it. When you commit to leading with compassion, you invest time into your people and help them succeed. You support their growth, and clear their path of obstacles — whether that means streamlining a paperwork process to make it less stressful for your HR Department, or simply providing a warm environment for an employee to come into your office and ask for a day off to take their kid on a field trip. Responding compassionately to your employees not only improves their loyalty and performance, but also creates an environment that is open to learning, collaboration and innovation-all essential elements of business success.

“Because of its role in enhancing collective capacities like innovation, service quality, collaboration, and adaptability, compassion matters for competitive advantage.”

Awakening Compassion at Work ,Monica Worline and Jane Dutto

For example, an employee who feels appreciated and cared for by their manager is more likely to respond compassionately and warmly to a client who calls the office and has a problem. Additionally, this overall employee happiness makes for a positive work environment, filled with better relationships, increased productivity and an overall commitment and engagement. Knowing the costs of turnover and bad customer service, you can see how cultivating compassion at work can impact the overall financial well-being of the company.

Additionally, Compassion is contagious and will quickly start to influence the whole culture of your company. Research by Jonathan Haidt at NYU shows that seeing someone respond compassionately to another person creates a heightened state of well-being that he calls “elevation.” He explains that this experience of elevation makes us more likely to act with compassion as a result, creating a nurturing network. Additionally, Social scientists James Fowler of UC San Diego and Nicolas Christakis of Harvard have demonstrated that helping is contagious: Acts of compassion lead to more compassion. This is how company culture is formed. Don’t you want to foster a culture of basic goodness?

Practicing Compassion

As we’ve seen in previous posts, these powerful skills like Compassion can be practiced and incorporated into our daily lives to make us and our teams happier. Compassion is an action: an action that we can commit to doing and make a habit. In the video below, our CEO, Rick Breden, helps you start cultivating this culture of basic goodness by showing you how to guide yourself and others through a practice of sending and receiving compassion.

If you liked this video, check out our other Compassion Meditation on our podcast, Natural Tendencies.

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