The business case for compassion

Now for the good news!

Happier, healthier workplaces are more productive and innovative, and mindfulness and compassion-based training can help.

This isn’t just some unorthodox, fringe movement. Google, Tata and Nordstrom have all joined the so-called Conscious Capitalist movement and used business trainings like Project Oxygen to leverage the benefits of compassion for the good of their organisation and their employees.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner told audiences at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference that he is on a personal mission to “expand the world’s collective wisdom and compassion,” and that he has made the practice of compassionate management a core value at the company.

Wouldn’t we all like a nicer, kinder working environment?

Here are the top five workplace benefits of compassion training:

Teamwork compassionate workplace hug

  1. Self-compassion fosters successful leaders and employees

Self-compassion increases our motivation to recover from failure, according to a University of California study in 2011 (1). Researchers discovered that following an initial failure on a difficult test, subjects spent more time studying for the resit when they practiced self-compassion. Participants also reported greater motivation to work on their weaknesses when they practiced self-acceptance.

Better moods and positive characteristics are also associated with self-compassion training, according to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality (2). Self-compassion was shown to be linked to greater levels of happiness, optimism, wisdom, taking initiative, and curiosity.

Self-compassion comes from within, so can increase genuine self-worth, unlike high self-esteem, which depends on external circumstances and social comparisons. A 2011 study reported that self-compassion allows us to feel good despite instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection (3).

A little kindness towards ourselves can also help us survive the ups and downs of life. Studies show that self-compassion is a key factor in overcoming challenge and adversity. For example, in this 2011 study higher levels of self-compassion were related to improved emotional recovery following marital separation or divorce (4).

So self-compassionate employees and leaders are more likely to take initiative, admit mistakes, work towards improving outcomes, work through personal challenges with emotional resilience and participate in positive social interactions in the workplace.

2. Compassionate management creates a safer, more innovative working environment

Compassionate management, meaning appreciating staff talents and skills, improves performance and loyalty. When managers demonstrate that they understand employee work difficulties and care about their personal struggles, people feel safer to take risks and to innovate and collaborate when they know others care about them —all of which impact the bottom line (5).

In this study by Amy Edmondson recounted in the book, hospitals with high levels of “psychological safety” were more willing to admit to error and collaborate to find solutions.

3. Improving staff care improves service quality 

“Because of its role in enhancing collective capacities like innovation, service quality, collaboration, and adaptability, compassion matters for competitive advantage,” write Worline and Dutton, authors of Awakening Compassion At Work.

For example, customer service representatives are better able to connect with customers if they feel cared for themselves.

4. Positive social interactions decrease stress, improve health and cut costs

Positive social interactions at work have been shown to boost employee health—for example, by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and by strengthening the immune system (6).

Employees in positive moods are more willing to provide high-quality customer service and to help their peers. Compassionate, friendly, and supportive co-workers tend to build higher-quality relationships with others at work, and in doing so, boost coworkers’ productivity levels and increase feelings of social connection, as well as their commitment to the workplace and their levels of engagement with their job. Given the costs of health care, employee turnover, and poor customer service, compassion therefore has a positive impact not only on employee health and well-being but also on the overall financial success of a workplace.

5. Compassionate acts inspire kind and compassionate acts by other staff

According to research by Jonathan Haidt at New York University, seeing someone help another person creates a heightened state of well-being that he calls “elevation.” Not only do we feel elevation when we watch a compassionate act, but we are more likely to act with compassion ourselves afterwards. (7) Likewise, social scientists James Fowler and Nicolas Christakis demonstrated that helping is contagious: acts of generosity, kindness and compassion beget more generosity in a chain reaction of goodness. (8)

Isn’t this the kind of workplace culture we all want to work in or lead?

If you’re an employer looking to increase your workplace skills in compassion, why not master these four skills in compassion:

Noticing: Paying attention to clues suggesting someone is suffering like body language, tone of voice, or unusual work patterns and gently inquiring in a private setting about what might be going on.

Interpretation: Considering suffering to be real and worthy. If we hold certain automatic, unconscious biases —like the belief that someone deserves their misfortune, or that certain groups of people are less worthy — this can be harder. So biases must be acknowledged and countered.

Feeling: As mammals, we are wired to empathise and feel concern when those we care about suffer; so simple gestures to increase connection —like keeping one’s door open, lingering after meetings, and putting cell phones away during conversations —build relationships that naturally encourage empathy and strengthen relationships.

Acting: Compassionate action shows we wish to meet the needs of the individual suffering and can be improvised from the circumstances and tailored. “What do you need from us?” is the golden question here. Offering work flexibility, reassurance around job security, empathic listening, and meaningful rituals or mementos can all help to show we understand and care.

Tips for creating a more compassionate workplace today:

  • Practise self-compassion. Two effective 5-minute practices include the Self-Care Break and the Self-Compassion Break.
  • Create sub-groups where people with shared duties can develop a sense of community.
  • Hold meetings where people are encouraged to share not only work achievements, but mistakes as well, to make workplaces safe for learning.
  • Tell stories about the organisation’s mission, humanitarian achievements and commitment to doing good, to inspire employees.
  • Formally recognise acts of compassion at work to encourage more generosity of spirit.
  • Have leaders role-model vulnerability, to create an atmosphere of safety and trust.

Lyndi Smith is a workplace trainer, specialising in mindfulness and compassion. If you’re an employer enquiring about training in this area, you can contact Lyndi here.


(1) Self-Compassion Increases Self-Improvement Motivation, Breines & Chen, 2012

(2) An Examination of Self-Compassion in Relation to Positive Psychological Functioning and Personality Traits, Neff, Rudea & Kirkpatrick, 2006

(3) Self‐Compassion Versus Global Self‐Esteem: Two Different Ways of Relating to Oneself, Neff & Vonk, 2008

(4) Emotional Recovery Following Marital Separation, Sbarra, Smith & Mehl, 2012

(5) 4

(6) Positive Social Interactions and The Human Body At Work, Linking Organisations and Physiology, Heathy & Dutton, 2008

(7) The Positive Emotion of Elevation, Haidt, J, 2000.

(8) Cooperative Behaviour Cascades in Human Social Networks, Fowler and Christakis, 2010

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