Should compassion have a place in work?

You’d generally think being compassionate is a good thing. But while most people seem to view it positively in their personal lives, opinions get a bit more blurry when you’re talking about compassion in the workplace.

What’s compassion?

Roffey Park’s been taking a look at the subject in its report about compassion at work. Compassion’s not an easy thing to define but the report has a go; it’s being moved by and feeling sorrow for another person’s suffering or problems. That creates an authentic desire to help. More importantly, it leads to action that aims to alleviate the pain or problem felt by the other person.

In the workplace this manifests itself when you discover that a colleague or employee has a problem. You feel empathy. You want to take action to help them. It might be one to one help or it might be that a few people offer assistance collectively.

But is this something that always happens or in reality is there a lack of compassion in organisations?

Does compassion exist in your business?

It’s likely to be the case that it does to some extent. There can’t be many people who’d hear about someone else going through a difficult time and not feel any sympathy.

And yet that last part of Roffey Park’s definition – taking actual action to alleviate the problem – seems to be where it falls down. Not because people really don’t care about others but because when you’re feeling overwhelmed by pressure to perform productively and efficiently in your own job it reduces the odds of noticing another person’s needs. And even if you do notice, you may be less inclined to do much about it.

A business’ culture can get in the way too. You might feel sympathy if you see someone going through a difficult time and getting emotional. But you might also be conscious about how others view it. Could some people regard it as weak behaviour that is has no place in work? And would that make you look like a soft touch if you’re trying to help the employee?

The Roffey Park view is that there’s a strong business case for compassion in the workplace and that means overcoming such cultural issues if they exist. Some of the case it makes is based on evidence suggesting compassionate leadership improves employee engagement and retention. Compassionate management means your employees will be comfortable talking about their problems. They’ll flourish in a culture of support. You’ll be helping to build close relationships and familiarity between peers.

The report also reminds us there are some things you shouldn’t really need to justify with a business case. Sometimes the fact that it’s the decent thing to do makes it the right thing to do.

So what do you think? Should there be more compassion at your workplace? And how compassionate would you say you are? If you’d like to find out then you might want to try Roffey Park’s Compassion at Work Index (CWI). It’s a statistically robust model which gives you a personalised report of your own perception of your levels of compassion at work. If the results come as an unwelcome surprise it also gives you some ideas about how you can develop a more compassionate style too…