Compassion and the corporate workplace seem to be things that can’t coexist harmoniously together. For many of us, pairing these two things sounds more like an ideological concept than a realistic possibility. But it’s actually not.
We’ve already talked about the toll that the pandemic has taken on our mental health; that’s why we need to be more empathic and compassionate towards fellow colleagues now more than ever. In an article published by the Harvard Business Review, it's reported that our compassion oftentimes goes out the window during stressful situations.
It’s indeed possible to work under pressure and stress and to still feel compassionate towards others. But how can we find compassion when our brain tells us to do the exact opposite? We’re going to discuss this very thing, but first it’s essential to understand the basics of compassion and kindness.
What is Loving-Kindness?
In Buddhism, the definition for loving-kindness is a “strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others [...] that is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy, and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers.”
Loving-kindness is distinct from compassion. Although the difference is quite subtle, according to some Buddhist concepts, loving-kindness, stands for the 'wish for all beings to be free from suffering’, whereas compassion focuses on the ‘wish for all beings to be happy.’
What is Compassion?
According to the Greater Good Magazine out of the University of California at Berkeley, compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Consider the feeling you have when you see someone suffering, a feeling that gives us each a profound sense of how we might attempt to relieve the suffering of the other. That is compassion.
Conversely, empathy has connotations of putting yourself in another's shoes and in turn to gather the perspective of the other person in relation to their pain and suffering.
There’s no one that is better than the other, and as opposed to what many people may think, compassion isn’t an overly irrational emotion. In fact, science has already proved that compassion is essential to our survival as a species. When we feel compassion towards others, we secrete bonding hormones such as oxytocin and the experience taps into regions of the brain directly related to empathy and caregiving.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that individual acts of compassion and kindness could bring harmony and balance to the entire world!
The Essence of Compassion
The website Positive Psychology explains that compassion has three main components:
- Understanding or empathizing with others and their problems.
- Loving and caring for others.
- Selflessly helping others in need.
Compassion is “empathy in action,” in which there’s no interest in taking something from the other, which also adds components of altruism.
Regularly, compassion is a key element that is missing from many corporate environments. In fact, studies have already recognized that showing compassion to colleagues, team members, and leaders can increase overall job satisfaction and even productivity.
Compassion In The Workplace
“Organizational compassion exists when members of a system collectively notice, feel, and respond to pain experienced by members of that system.”
Compassion has sometimes been seen as a utopic and unrealistic approach in the workplace environment. But we need it more than ever, and the COVID-19 outbreak has shown us this by increasing the number of mental health issues.
Addressing the often times cutthroat corporate environment requires a humanistic approach. A humanistic approach brings structure, balance, and a richer quality of interpersonal relationships into the professional world. Academic literature points out six key aspects to compassion in the workplace:
It’s composed of a set of values that an organization and its employees perceive to be necessary.
It is the actual organizational beliefs held by the employees.
The standard organizational behaviors that shape how employees act and respond to one another. It’s similar to corporate culture.
Practices that support and shape compassion in the workplace.
Structure and quality of relationships
The quality of human connections between employees.
Leaders’ behaviors and actions
The importance of leaders’ actions, especially when it comes to their response to employee suffering.
As compassion aims to alleviate one’s suffering, it’s imperative to see it as a concept that can also lower stress and anxiety among employees.
In many cases, the example must come from a company’s leadership. A well-balanced, healthy and good organizational system is built upon a culture in which employees feel supported and seen. Such an organizational system leads to tighter bonds between leaders and employees, an increased sense of overall trust, motivation and job satisfaction.
The Compassionate Leadership Model
The Compassionate Leadership Model is in part based on the proposition of mindful leadership, and is developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the most prominent names in applied mindfulness teachings; he too indicates that compassionate leadership can help reduce our levels of stress in the workplace.
Also, if you think compassion is something you’re born with, that’s not necessarily true. Further studies on Kabat-Zinn’s concept of compassionate leadership showed that compassion is at least in part a learned phenomenon and, like many other skills, it can be significantly increased and integrated with regular practice.
According to this leadership model, a compassionate leader is self-motivated, is considered a positive influence upon their team members, makes others feel secure at work, and is someone who has their team members’ back whenever possible.
The Harvard Business Review developed an assessment for leaders to identify their level of compassion. You can take the test here.
The compassionate leader model and mindful model are interconnected; if you wish to learn more about integrating mindfulness-based performance improvement into your leadership style, our team at Mindful Life, Mindful Work, Inc. has developed a specific program focused on leaders to do so.
The Mindful Corporate Leader Training (MCLT) is designed to provide the tools corporate leaders need to integrate mindful leadership skills and approaches into leading their teams. MCLT will give practical tools that will help you empower your team and develop mindful awareness, mindful communication, and executive presence.
The Benefits of Workplace Compassion
The benefits are many, for both employees and organizations.
It Reduces Stress
The sense of trust increases, so employees have a sense of security and feel comfortable sharing what’s troubling them.
It Increases Overall Well-being
A safer workplace helps employees reduce their stress levels, so they’re more prone to actively seek help and get help from their colleagues and superiors.
It Reduces Turnover
One of the vital benefits of a compassionate workplace is employee retention. Cooperation increases the likelihood of employees feeling understood, therefore they are more likely to stay in an organization for a longer period of time.
Benefits Go Beyond The Workplace
In 2021, it was estimated that the average American worker spends about 34 hours at work per week. And as we already mentioned, spending such a long time in an unwelcoming or uncomfortable environment, where an individual doesn’t feel understood or seen, can take its toll on their mental health and well-being.
A positive workplace reflects positive emotions that go beyond the workplace. If a coworker is navigating a stressful life situation such as a divorce or grief, they tend to easily lose focus while working in a harsh and hostile environment.
On the flip side, individuals who get attention and support from their fellow colleagues and leaders may in part overcome their emotional turmoil, rebuild self-confidence, and maintain productivity at higher levels.
According to a comprehensive study published on the American Scientist, “positive emotions don’t just transform individuals; they may also transform groups of people, within communities and organizations.”
And what they mean by positive emotion can be anything from helping others, receiving help or simply witnessing someone else receiving help, all of which may foster the feeling of gratitude.
So, “each of these positive emotions,” as stated by the study, “pride, gratitude, and elevation—can, in turn, broaden people’s mindsets and inspire further compassionate acts.”
Loving-Kindness and Mindfulness Techniques in the Workplace
Applying loving-kindness and compassion in our day-to-day work is easier than you might think. A combination of compassion and mindfulness can help you, your employees and your colleagues to reap many benefits. Below are some ways to apply these practices.
Bringing Mindfulness to the Workplace
We’ve already shared here the benefits of mindfulness in the corporate environment, and some simple techniques such as setting specific times during the work day for mindfulness practice and integrating a mindful approach into your company culture.
“Be curious, not judgmental,” said Walt Whitman. Instead of judging someone for what he’s done, try and put yourself in their shoes and practice empathy. Listen, instead of speaking; accept, rather than trying to prematurely change.
If someone is going through a hard time, think of how you could help them. You don’t need to take their problem over and solve it. Instead, offer small actions such as listening carefully and mindfully, recommending professional help if it might benefit, or offer to help if there is an opportunity to do so.
Camila Santiago is a content writer and strategist specializing in health and corporate wellness, including extensive experience writing SEO-friendly content. She writes, edits and proof-reads content on wellness topics spanning physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and does so for organizations aiming to improve overall employee wellbeing and professional excellence.