How Compassionate Is Your Company?

The importance of, and ways to foster, compassion in the workplace

Posted Jun 27, 2013

Early in my law practice, I remember going to the head of my team to report a serious work matter. Without hesitation, he told me to stop complaining and suck it up. Needless to say, any favorable opinion I had of him evaporated and our working relationship was forever changed. How would you respond if a member of your work team experienced a sudden life event? Does your company have procedures in place to handle such a crisis? When was the last time you experienced compassion at work, whether you were the giver or the receiver? Compassion is one of those “soft skills” companies tend to get nervous about, but over a decade of research is revealing that a company’s level of compassion has critical bottom line implications.

I recently attended Dr. Jane Dutton’s workshop on compassion at the International Positive Psychology Association’s 3rd World Congress. Compassion isn’t only about “hugging it out,” and according to Dr. Dutton, compassion is exhibited in many forms. Examples of compassionate action include attention and presence, being flexible and giving of your time, offering social support, and coordinated resources.

Dr. Dutton explained that compassion at work matters in four key areas:

1. Compassion fortifies employees by helping them build resilience and cultivate a positive work identity.

2. Compassion helps us become healthier and happier.

3. Compassion connects us to each other and to the organization.

4. Compassion is inspiring.

How do you know, though, whether you’re working in a compassionate workplace? Being able to be your authentic self and being in an environment where forgiveness is the norm are good indicators. Flexibility, dedicated resources to help during tough times, genuine smiles, and feeling like you’re in a “safe” environment are also good indicators. In addition, research points to four conditions that foster compassion at work. They are:

1. Systems and structures that support employees.

2. Shared values (the whole person is valued).

3. Strong and high-quality connections are present.

4. Leaders model compassionate behavior (and jerks are not tolerated).

In order to build your own levels of compassion, actually have sincere conversations with folks in your organization; not just with the ones who are doing OK, but also with colleagues who you sense might be having a tough time. Listen to what others have to say and empathize.

Many organizations have had to transform the way they do business over the past handful of years thanks to the economic collapse. Employees are constantly being asked to do more with less, and too much work in combination with a high sense of urgency leaves precious little time for compassionate moments in the workplace. The time to build a culture of compassion in your company is now.


Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is an internationally-published writer and travels the globe as a stress and resilience expert. She has trained over a thousand professionals on how to manage their stress by building a set of specific skills designed to increase personal resilience and prevent burnout. Paula is available for speaking engagements, training workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching – contact her at or visit her website at

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