Why Is Compassion Good For Business?

Meaningful moments of connection and care for your co-workers have been shown to significantly improve company culture.  Making room for compassion at work can also boost productivity and profitability.

Disengaged employees cost you through lost productivity but also by spreading negativity throughout the company.

Today many employees feel actively disengaged at work. According to Gallup in 2016, only 33% of workers in the United States are engaged in their jobs, 51% of employees are disengaged, and 16% are actively disengaged. And this picture is mirrored in other countries like Australia and the UK. Globally engagement is trending down (2015: 65%, 2016: 63%). Nearly 70% of all U.S. workers don’t like their job, and the cost to the U.S. economy is up to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. Disengaged employees cost you through lost productivity but also by spreading negativity throughout the company. Actively disengaged employees are miserable in the workplace and can destroy any positive benefits the company attempts to implement.

Too often businesses try to fix this through satisfaction surveys that usually don’t lead to change. Instead, they fuel more skepticism. Or companies step up providing added benefits which also have little impact on disengagement. The key to employee engagement is about how people interact and treat their co-workers every day, not just on team away days or staff drinks.

But why are we so disengaged and what steps can employers take to make our workplaces feel more engaging? According to research, feeling engaged at work is highly connected to whether employees feel cared about, and feel a part of a community at work. In reality, whether they feel psychologically safe. It has been shown that not only our productivity increases when we’re encouraged us to express emotions like compassion and caring but there a drop in absenteeism in part related to improved employee health. Compassion can positively impact every aspect of the workplace.

Today we are overloaded at work. In Sweden, a study in 2017 for Unionen showed that only 45% of employees and leaders felt able to manage their workloads. This creates stress, and under pressure, it’s easy for our relationships to become more transactional as we race to get on top of our to-do lists. When our days are meetings, to-do lists, and clogged inboxes that consume our time and energy. I certainly have personal experience of going whole days in back to back meetings with little opportunity to have a brief chat with my colleagues. And in busy pressurized environments, it’s not uncommon to start emailing people who sit near us rather than getting out of our seats and talking them face to face.

We lose the power of meaningful human connection. This kind that comes from the heart and is linked to feelings of belonging and acceptance. Such relationships at work can positively lift critical measures of business like employee engagement, retention, productivity and profit. When people speak about their work, often they are talking about are the tasks, the “Doing” part of their jobs. While these aspects of the job are essential, but they are only part of the work experience. Equally important is the relational and emotional component, which emerges as expressions of caring, affection, and vulnerability. These acts of compassion are powerful and deliver meaning to our working lives.

Compassion at work is a relatively new concept, and some business leaders struggle to understand what compassion at work means.

Some managers fear kindness could be perceived as weakness, while others think pressures is a more effective way to keep employees productive. This can get reinforced where organizational messages endorse winning at all costs or prioritizing self-promotion. And I have personally encountered managers that tell you to check your emotions at the door before coming to work.  Employees often don’t believe their managers understand the difficulties of their work or care about their personal struggles. We are human and so our personal setbacks such as the loss of loved ones, divorce, and health issues spill into the workplace and impactperformance. Yet many workers say their employers remain silent and uncaring in the face of suffering, perhaps because they believe work and home life should be kept separate, or because they fear making a mistake in offering support.

Many of us have unfortunately experienced workplaces where there is like little eye contact and even less conversation about how you are doing. Multiply those situations over days, weeks and years, and it is easy to see why employees feel disconnected and disengaged. And how negativity spreads leading to workplaces where absenteeism and presenteeism are rife and people ultimately burnout or leave.

So what is compassion? Compassion is defined as the ability to understand the emotional state of another person or oneself. Also, compassion is the desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another. It is often confused with empathy and altruism. Empathy is our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, while compassion is when those feelings and thoughts prompt us to want to help the other person. Altruism, is kind, selfless behavior that may be inspired by feelings of compassion. However, one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

I believe that having compassion for others involves more than putting yourself in another’s place and wanting to understand or even help them. It requires a unique perspective when it comes to how you perceive others. For example, instead of the reason someone has done something that hurts you is that they are selfish or inconsiderate, assume instead that they had a good reason for doing it. Learning to have more compassion involves making the radical shift to expect the best in others.

When leaders and employees are genuinely caring, it changes the energy of the organization.

And that shift is tangible in meetings or around the office and with customers or suppliers. You can’t have a great customer experience if there isn’t a great employee experience. But the good news is that any organization can introduce compassion to the workplace. In their book Awakening Compassion at Work organizational psychologists Monica Worline and Jane Dutton outline four clear areas where leaders can learn to master how to be compassionate.

  1. Learning to attention to clues that might suggest someone needs more support like their body language, the tone of voice, or unusual work patterns and gently inquiring in a private setting about what might be going on.
  2. Becoming non-judgemental which is hard as it’s natural to hold certain automatic, unconscious biases
  3. Empathizing with others. We are biologically wired to feel care for others which can be demonstrated through simple behaviors like keeping your office door open, being available after meetings and putting away mobile phones away. All of these foster better relationships that naturally encourage our
  4. Taking compassionate action. It is important to recognize that compassion isn’t weaknesses or fluffy it encourages us to be courageous, responsible and to act. Compassionate actions at work can include offering work flexibility, reassurance around job security, and mindful listening,

But everyone within an organization can also make small steps that begin to make a significant difference: Here are some of my favorites that easy to do and feel genuine to do

  • Say good morning, greet everyone as you make your way to your desk.
  • Ask a colleague how they are doing. Don’t forget to pause to listen!
  • Get to know a bit about your co-worker’s lives. Have genuine conversations about family members or what they did on the weekend
  • Merely delivering an employee a much-needed cup of coffee can set the tone for a compassionate environment.
  • Organizing team days that are about ‘giving back’ like working with a charity. When we show compassion for others it has been shown to flow back to the organization, creating a more compassionate and caring workplace

Showing people, you care, and creating policies that foster compassion, are simple but effective ways to improve business and is pretty much a no-brainer. The challenge is no longer to find a reason why compassion matters for business instead it is to time to design work and workplaces that foster compassion in any situation.


Dr. Clarissa Hughes
Dr. Clarissa Hughes
Dr. Clarissa Hughes is the CEO and founder of The Little Breathing Space based in Göteborg, Sweden. She has a passion for working with busy business people through tailored mindfulness coaching to find their optimal stress levels and to be able to better navigate the demands of modern life skillfully. Her coaching empowers them to develop a higher capacity to feel clear-headed, confident and thriving in a life that reflects their purpose. Clarissa has been a senior manager in some of the world’s largest multinationals in the UK and Asia-Pacific for over 28 years. She suffered a burnout due to stress and found her way back to a calmer, more connected life through mindfulness. Clarissa is an accredited Breathworks Mindfulness practitioner, iRest Yoga Nidra teacher has experience and an academic background in human behaviour. She is a keynote speaker at leadership conferences, hosts the podcast ‘A Little Breathing Space’ and regularly appears in articles, podcasts, and radio interviews internationally talking all things mindfulness. Clarissa believes that mindfulness is more than daily meditation - it is a way of living with compassionate self-awareness so that we can truly thrive.

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