By Jonathan Taylor, Managing Psychologist at leading D&I consultancy Pearn Kandola
More than ever, employees are combating increased levels of stress and anxiety. The past year and a half has had a profound effect on people’s wellbeing. Employers need to be closely attuned to how this might manifest in the workplace and what support is needed to help keep their employees happy, engaged and productive.
A growing body of research indicates that proactively creating space for more compassion at work is a key part of supporting employee wellbeing. Compassion-based work practices are known to alleviate feelings of pressure and stress. This, in turn, helps to foster a workplace culture that drives employee performance and innovation.
All employers can implement compassion-based practices into their organisation. Compassion-based practices are actions that recognise and alleviate suffering, which is currently on the rise. This can be either for the individual themself, or for others.
Here, we outline the different forms of compassion-based working and the benefits they can bring to the workplace.
Interpersonal compassion involves an individual person noticing another colleague’s suffering, feeling empathy and taking action to help. This can take place between two individuals or involve a collective effort, where a team rally together to support a colleague. There are three distinct steps to interpersonal compassion: noticing, empathising and taking action.
The first step to interpersonal compassion is noticing, which involves active listening to observe a colleague’s discomfort. This key step is often overlooked, as colleagues may not feel comfortable asking many questions about another’s circumstances. This step, however, is critical to showing compassion and should be thoroughly explored when it appears that a co-worker is suffering.
The second step is empathising, which involves feeling and showing genuine concern for a suffering colleague. Within a workplace, this step can be applied even more effectively through a practice known as sense-making. Sense-making is a more advanced level of empathy, in which the observer uses the context of a given situation to imagine what their colleague must be feeling. This can be a valuable tool for the observer to develop an appropriate response to their colleague’s suffering.
Finally, interpersonal compassion involves taking action. This can come in many forms, dependent on an employee’s relationship with their colleague. Peers can offer emotional support such as a hug or verbal support, while senior management can help by lessening workload or providing more flexibility. Employers should also consider the extent to which making time for compassion is being valued by the workplace – for example, if meeting structures allow for colleagues to observe each other’s experiences; or, if regular one-to-one conversations between colleagues are part of the schedule.
Compassion-based practices also extend to the ways that we interact with ourselves. Self-compassion involves extending compassion towards ourselves and understanding that being human involves imperfection, pain, and failure.
This practice also involves extending forgiveness and kindness towards ourselves, especially in times of stress. Employers can encourage this kind of compassion-based practice by implementing mindfulness techniques in the workplace and encouraging employees to take ownership of their stress levels through mindfulness practice.
The benefits of compassion-based practices
Implementing compassion-based practices in the workplace will have a positive impact on the experience of employees and executives. Workplaces that prioritise compassion report higher levels of organisational learning such as risk-taking and greater participation from employees at all levels. These practices also improve the ways that colleagues perceive each other in the form of sense-making, allowing employees to see each other’s positive traits more consistently.
This type of working is also known to increase employee pride in the way their organisation operates internally. This morale boost can improve employee performance and will motivate staff to continue practising compassion in the workplace as a way of upholding pride in their company.
Finally, these practices – both interpersonal and self-directed – are key to protecting employees’ mental health. These practices reduce the risk of social isolation in the workplace and encourage colleagues to stay connected to each other’s wellbeing.
Company culture post-pandemic
Compassion-based practices can be a transformational move for company culture. Now is the time for employers to consider their company culture and what more can be done to implement compassion into work routines and practices. A simple way to do this is to make time for one-to-one conversations between colleagues; or, considering the different ways to encourage employees to get to know each other both within and outside of the workplace.
As we move forwards toward an increasingly hybrid work environment, extending compassion to employees and colleagues will be more crucial than ever before – and will help staff feel connected to each other even as we continue with virtual work.