Compassion in organizational life

By: Jason M. Kanov, Sally Maitlis, Monica C. Worline, Jane Dutton, Peter J. Frost, Jacoba M. Lilius

Kanov, J., Maitlis, S., Worline, M., Dutton, J.E., Frost, P., & Lilius, J. (2004). Compassion in organizational life. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 808-827. Reprinted in Organization development: A Jossey-Bass reader (pp. 793-812), by J. Gallos (Ed.), 2006, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


In this article, the authors explore compassion in work organizations. They discuss the prevalence and costs of pain in organizational life, and identify compassion as an important process that can occur in response to suffering. At the individual level, compassion takes place through three subprocesses: noticing another’s pain, experiencing an emotional reaction to the pain, and acting in response to the pain. The authors build on this framework to argue that organizational compassion exists when members of a system collectively notice, feel, and respond to pain experienced by members of that system. These processes become collective as features of an organization’s context legitimate them within the organization, propagate them among organizational members, and coordinate them across individuals.