Compassion: Does it Make Business Sense?

May 6, 2013

By: Wayne Baker

Originally posted on Our Values

Does compassion make business sense? I know that seems like a crass question. The case for compassion is a moral and human one. In business, however, many hard-nosed leaders don’t see a place for compassion unless it makes sense in dollars and cents.

So, does a lack of compassion “cost” a company? One estimate puts the cost of grief to business at $75 billion annually—and that’s a dated figure, so the cost probably is more today. Stress and burnout cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost time, productivity, and more, according to the CompassionLab. These figures should capture the attention of business leader who focus solely on bottom-line impact.

We typically think of compassion as something that occurs between two people. The elements of compassion at the person-to-person level include noticing another person’s suffering, feeling the other person’s pain (empathy), and responding in a way that supports the person who is suffering.

Jason Kanov and colleagues argue that we can also think of organizational compassion. This involves the same three elements, but in a collective way. Collective noticing is more than just multiple people recognizing another person’s suffering. It is a collective acknowledgement of suffering.

Leaders play a critical role. Kanov and colleagues cite the example of John Chambers, CEO of CISCO Systems, who established a policy that he should be notified personally within 48 hours if a CISCO employee or employee’s family member died or became seriously ill. Today, Cisco has over 73,000 employees.

Collective feeling means sharing individual empathy more widely. This occurs best in cultures that are open and people are encouraged to share what’s going on in their lives. Organizations have “feeling rules” about what is and what isn’t appropriate to share.

Collective responding is a coordinated response to suffering. Individuals may respond with emotional support or material aid and assistance. But this response is amplified when an organization coordinates and directs a response.

Does the concept of organizational compassion make sense to you?

Do you have a good example or collective compassion?

Or, have you seen organizations fail to respond to pain and suffering?