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What is Compassion at Work?

Building a supportive and collaborative environment

What is Compassion at Work?

Building a supportive and collaborative environment

Compassion at work refers to the practice of showing empathy and understanding towards coworkers, clients, and customers in the workplace. It involves demonstrating care and concern for others, even in stressful or challenging situations.

Where can you see compassion at work?

Research suggests that compassion within the context of the workplace is relational and process orientated. There are six key organisational aspects that are relevant to compassion at work:

  1. Shared values. When an organization and its employees share the same values, it is easier for them to understand and support each other.
  2. Shared beliefs. Shape how employees perceive and respond to situations in the workplace. If an organization believes that compassion is important, employees are more likely to demonstrate compassionate behaviour towards one another.
  3. Norms. Dictate what behaviours are acceptable and encouraged in the workplace. If an organization has norms that support compassion, such as encouraging employees to check in on each other, compassion is more likely to be demonstrated.
  4. Organisational practices. Practices which support and shape compassion in the workplace, including practices such as providing mental health resources for employees and encouraging open communication and feedback.
  5. Structure and quality of relationships. If employees have positive and supportive relationships, they are more likely to demonstrate compassion towards one another.
  6. Leaders’ behaviours. Set the tone for the organization. If leaders demonstrate compassionate behaviours, employees are more likely to follow their lead.

The Difference Compassion at Work Makes

Compassion plays a crucial role in enhancing employee well-being, job satisfaction, and organizational performance. Research suggests that interpersonal compassion has the potential to impact not only sufferers but also focal actors, witnesses, and organizations.

Benefits brought by compression at work

  • Sufferers: Recover physically and psychologically, calls up positive emotions, reduce anxiety, increases attachment and commitment to the organization, sense of being valued and worthy
  • Focal actors: Greater compassion satisfaction, a more prosocial identity, perceived to be more intelligent and have better leadership
  • Witnesses and bystanders: Increase feelings of pride about the way that people in an organization are behaving, foster elevation, encourage people to act more for the common good
  • Organizations: Stronger felt connection and trust between coworkers, greater collective commitment, lower absenteeism and turnover rates, increased productivity, increased overall levels of collaboration

Steps to Show Compassion at Work

The stage for compassion is set when a pain trigger occurs and causes someone to suffer. Suffering itself is dynamic, and its intensity and form often change over time. However, there are 4 steps that one may consider following to show compassion at work.

1. Noticing Suffering

Noticing involves becoming aware of another person’s pain and singling out certain cues for conscious processing, which may involve intuition, active listening, and seeking out information to understand their situation.

2. Feeling Empathic Concern

Empathic concern is the dominant way psychologists have studied and defined compassion, which can be a potent source of motivation to help relieve the empathy-inducing need of others.

3. Acting Compassionately

Acting compassionately includes all behaviours intended to reduce or remedy the sufferer’s pain. It can involve a range of different behaviours, from mere presence to directing multiple resources towards a sufferer.

4. Sensemaking

The focal actor may engage in perspective-taking to understand the sufferer’s pain and make appraisals. Sufferers can then make sense of their situation, thus being able to manage their emotions and reduce suffering.

Strategies for Cultivating Compassion in the Workplace

There are several things that organizations can do to help cultivate compassion in the workplace.

  1. Provide training and resources: Organizations can provide training and resources to help employees develop their compassion skills, such as workshops on empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution.
  2. Model compassionate behaviours: Leaders can model compassionate behaviours and promote a culture of compassion through their actions and policies. For example, leaders can encourage employees to take breaks when needed, support flexible work arrangements, and prioritize mental health.
  3. Encourage self-compassion: Encouraging employees to practice self-compassion can also contribute to a more compassionate workplace. This includes promoting self-care practices, such as mindfulness and stress management techniques.
  4. Foster positive relationships: Organizations can foster positive and respectful relationships among employees by encouraging open communication, collaboration, and empathy.
  5. Recognize and reward compassionate behaviour: Recognizing and rewarding compassionate behaviour can reinforce the importance of compassion in the workplace and encourage employees to continue to demonstrate compassionate behaviours.
  6. Measure and track outcomes: Organizations can measure and track compassion-related outcomes, such as employee well-being, job satisfaction, and organizational performance, to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts to cultivate compassion in the workplace.


Compassion at work is not just a feel-good concept; it has tangible benefits for both employees and organizations. By cultivating compassion in the workplace, organizations can create a more supportive and collaborative environment, leading to increased productivity, lower absenteeism and turnover rates, and stronger connections between coworkers. Compassionate behaviours can also have a ripple effect, inspiring others to act more for the common good. Ultimately, compassion at work is not just a nice-to-have, but a critical component of a healthy and successful workplace culture.

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