The contours and consequences of compassion at work

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

Lilius, J., Worline, M., Maitlis, S., Kanov, J., Dutton, J., & Frost, P. (2008). Contours of compassion at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29(2), 193-218.


This paper describes two studies that explore core questions about compassion at work. Findings from a pilot survey indicate that compassion occurs with relative frequency among a wide variety of individuals, suggesting a relationship between experienced compassion,positive emotion, and affective commitment. A complementary narrative study reveals a wide range of compassion triggers and illuminates ways that work colleagues respond to suffering. The narrative analysis demonstrates that experienced compassion provides important sensemaking occasions where employees who receive, witness, or participate in the delivery of compassion reshape understandings of their co-workers, themselves, and their organizations. Together these studies map the contours of compassion at work, provide evidence of its powerful consequences, and open a horizon of new research questions.