Why Compassion Matters Now More Than Ever

When you work with people for a long time, your colleagues, customers, vendors, and clients become friends. You share the joy on their wedding days, send balloons when their children are born, let them cry in your office when they experience a loss, and stand by them in their decision to leave the company. We travel through life with one another, and there is no way around that fact. When you see someone in tears, go to them and practice compassion. Compassion means you feel a conscious sympathy for someone in trouble or pain and have an overpowering need to ease that pain. Sadly, we can’t reverse the tragedy, but we can be there for someone. We can give them our greatest gift: our time and presence. You don’t even have to say a word, just go to their office, close the door, put your arm around him or her. Even for the most grief- stricken person, receiving your compassion will elevate his or her spirit. It will lead to more productivity later as well, because when employees feel liked or, dare I say, loved, they feel like they matter and they want to stay together and help each other out. They want to see everyone succeed, because they are succeeding with one another, and that is truly rewarding and validating. Where compassion is present, a tight bond is formed. When social interactions are positive and supportive, psychological distress decreases and employees experience better health. The entire staff realizes there is no “I” in “team.”

It comes down to culture. Do you have a compassionate culture? Research on compassion in the workplace and how to implement it for a new management culture is still emerging. To help communicate scientists’ best practices to business leaders—literally bridging the gap between the research world and the business world—is one of the main objectives of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

Associate Director of CCARE Emma M. Seppala reports: “Compassionate, friendly, and supportive coworkers tend to build higher-quality relationships with others at work. In doing so, they boost coworkers’ productivity levels and increase coworkers’ feeling of social connection, as well as their commitment to the workplace and their levels of engagement with their job.”

Compassion causes a ripple effect as well. Jonathan Haidt at New York University calls the heightened state of well-being that happens after seeing someone helping another person “elevate.” Not only are we elevated when we see compassion in action, we are more apt to act compassionately toward someone else.

For example, there is a high incidence of burnout and stress in the healthcare field, which is detrimental to patients, staff, and medical providers. A growing body of research has correlated provider burnout to a decrease in compassion for patients. What happens when compassion levels are restored or elevated? A research study led by Emma M. Seppala, published in 2014 in the Journal of Compassionate Health Care, investigated the effectiveness of a brief session of loving-kindness meditation, practiced for just 10 minutes by medical providers. The findings reported that a brief “compassion intervention,” which can be easily implemented and improves well-being and feelings of connection, increased overall job performance and satisfaction in a short period of time, even in beginner meditators.

We have already established that our innate desire and need to bond with others, to be connected, is a driving biological force that motivates our actions, reactions, and decision making. It is not surprising that when the connection through compassion is threatened or taken away, we respond in emotionally undesirable ways toward others and ourselves. Our perceptions about what we are doing are skewed toward feelings of meaninglessness instead of empowerment and purpose. Restoring the connectivity at work through teaching employees, colleagues, clients, and customers to feel compassion in business increases satisfaction and loyalty.

Care and compassion cannot be faked. We as leaders must want to be authentic in connecting with people and building it into our mission and our business and company culture. Kindness, especially in the form of compassion, is contagious, so when we are communicating our own connectivity, it catches on and spreads like wildfire.