There are many definitions of compassion and I believe this one does it justice compassion “sensitivity to the pain or suffering or another couped with a deep desire to alleviate that suffering.” (Oxford Handbook of compassion science, 2017). This definition aptly highlights the difference between empathy and compassion. Empathy is the acknowledgement and embodiment of the other person’s pain, whereas compassion is distinguished from empathy by it’s ‘action’ component.
‘Compassion at work’ is a relatively new concept which organizations are becoming increasingly more open to and encouragingly experiencing the benefits of. Why is this such a relevant and important concept and why now? Well, the world of work has changed significantly, as we all well know, what has lagged behind this is the way in which we operate within our work environments. It is all too common to witness organisations which are still operating with fear-based leadership and the carrot or stick approach. Research and studies have shown that these older school methodologies not only don’t work but can do significant damage to the culture and interpersonal interactions of a team/organisation. Why do we continue to operate in such ways when we know they don’t work. Well, there are a number of reasons why this is the case, with the main reason being the fear of the unknown and potentially loss of power for leadership.
Organizational compassion occurs when the individual acts of compassion are legitimised by the organization and supported and recognised as ‘approved’ cultural behaviour.
This behaviour then gets role modelled to others which increases the amount of ‘compassionate behaviour’. Research has shown that people who practice compassionate behaviour have stronger connectedness with others, less depression, reduced moodiness and less mental illness (Oxford Handbook on Compassion Science, 2017 pg 425). These alone make a good business case for incorporating Compassion at work.
Compassion is an innate human quality which we all have at our disposal. The research and science indicates that when we demonstrate compassion we give both ourselves and the recipient of our compassion act a hit of dopamine, and unlike other resources, this resource grows and increases the more we use it. Not a bad return on our compassion investment.
So why should compassion have a place at work. From my experience work environments are rife with competitiveness, fear and operate from a scarcity mindset, and compassion can be the way out of this. It is compassion at work that can give an organization a competitive advantage. Organizational compassion can be seen to be CSI work, sponsorships and other charity outreachings however compassionate acts/behaviour at work needn’t be so grandiose and rather done individually and towards one another within one’s team.