Have you ever seen compassion listed as a required skill in a job description? Likely not, because most workplaces don’t consider compassion a skill—let alone a desired attribute of employees. What does it mean to be compassionate at work? It can be as simple as assuming others have good intentions even when a situation (for whatever reason) doesn’t go as planned, rather than defaulting to blame or confrontation. Despite the many tensions and errors that often arise at work, most people don’t wake up actively planning to act like a jerk or make others uncomfortable.
“For too many people, their workplace is an interruption from their time off, a form of paid suffering,” says Jon Ramer, founder of Compassion Games, a global organization dedicated to creating compassionate thinking and compassionate action in everyday life. “If more workplaces built their culture on a foundation of compassion, people would be more satisfied and dignified at work. They would see a connection between their deepest human values and the way they’re treating others—and are being treated—at work.”
“If more workplaces built their culture on a foundation of compassion, people would be more satisfied and dignified at work.”
Getting business leaders to care about compassion can be difficult because, as Ramer explains, “measuring the impact of compassion and how it translates to the bottom line is a new concept, making it hard to justify resources to build this skill at work.” But without it, employees burn out, managers become fatigued, and customers can feel it in the quality of experience.
What are some benefits of creating caring workplaces? “When businesses commit to developing compassion, they benefit by demonstrating a genuine concern about the culture in which their business operates. This impacts the quality of customer service as well as how employees interact with each other and with vendors,” Ramer says. “Compassion can build camaraderie among staff and directly impact the loyalty and retention of employees as well as customers.”
For many, compassion isn’t easy, especially at work. That’s because, as modern humans, we have created a work culture that generally doesn’t support failure and humility. At work, we seek recognition in the form of “getting credit.” When, for whatever reason, we aren’t given credit, it has become a habit to blame others rather than practice self-compassion (through self-reflection, self-accountability, and acceptance of our own imperfections). Being compassionate means being vulnerable, which means not being “perfect.” In a world often fixated on perfection and recognition, vulnerability can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. But compassion is a worthwhile risk to take, and it’s started gaining workplace acceptance.
Compassion in the workplace is not unlike compassion in any other place. It starts with a simple choice. A choice to be open to feel what others are feeling, or at the very least acknowledge that people don’t show up with the intention to be mean, difficult, or rude. It’s possible your colleagues are facing struggles: single parenting, health issues, divorce, deaths, disabilities, etc. We really don’t know another’s experience before we come together in our common workplace. So next time you’re at work and things don’t go your way, take a deep breath and assume your colleagues have positive intentions.