POS in Action: Practical Implications of Research on Compassion at Work

April 17, 2014

By Janet Max

Research suggests that compassion matters at work, and has positive effects on both those who demonstrate it in response to suffering, and those who experience compassion from others.  In the recent article “Compassion at Work” for Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior,  Jane Dutton and her co-authors define compassion and suffering,  review what researchers currently know about compassion at work, and discuss implications for practice and for future research.  Dutton et al. note that, “The timeliness of a focus on compassion at work arises from new scientific evidence and recent calls for more enriched relational perspectives in organizational psychology.” The authors note that suffering at work can arise from events in one’s personal life, from the work itself, from negative interpersonal experiences at work, or from organizational actions, and cite the hundreds of billions of dollars businesses lose annually because of grief, stress, and burnout suffered by the individuals who comprise them.  The authors describe research on the role of compassion in responding to this suffering.

How Research on Compassion can Benefit You and Your Organization
Individuals can cultivate skills to become more compassionate, and to facilitate a compassionate response.  The first step is to acknowledge and accept the pervasive suffering in the workplace.   Cultivating mindfulness and practicing meditation also promote a compassionate response in general, because they are mechanisms for improving noticing the pain of others.  One can use job crafting to incorporate resources (e.g., seeking expert advice) for feeling, making sense of, and responding to suffering.  Organizational leaders play a critical role in promoting workplace compassion.  They can recognize that individuals are whole people who bring and experience emotions in the workplace, and encourage more permeable work and life boundaries.  It is also critical for leaders to facilitate high-quality relationships among employees and to implement practices that support compassion.

Dutton, J.E., Workman, K.M., & Hardin, A.E. (2014).  Compassion at work. Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior (1), 277-304.
Audio of a 35-minute interview with author Jane Dutton.