“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business; it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.”
—–Dalai Lama, Spiritual Leader
The world and business, for that matter, are becoming less human; and this comes at a cost. So is it not time for companies to consider how they can get back to a more human perspective to business that acknowledges our universal need for compassion? And yes, the workplace can be a place of compassion, and companies can actively engender it. The goal is to develop compassion, a state where businesses can recognise their shared humanity, care for people and the planet, and practise what they preach.
Action speaks louder than words. This may be a cliché but it contains a lot of truth because there is much more to compassion than how much charity and philanthropic work businesses do. It’s one thing for a company to work on becoming more compassionate, but it’s quite another to change an entire company’s culture. After all, one can’t just snap his/her fingers and overhaul the company’s culture from one moment to the next. Indeed, it may be challenging, but it can be done. At the soul of this lies Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is about being a force for good and prioritising societal issues, while still making money. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is measured in terms of businesses improving conditions for their employees, shareholders, communities and the environment. But moral responsibility goes further, reflecting the need for corporations to address fundamental ethical issues such as inclusion, dignity and equality.
But how is it exactly that a business with a soul that demonstrates compassion creates a successful company? First, there are always things which you as a business wouldn’t do. Thus, your actions aren’t just a means to reach an inevitable outcome, but they also express your compassion. And that’s how businesses display their soul by consistently acting by their vision, mission statement, values and company philosophy.
Show some compassion…
How do businesses show compassion? So let’s delve into and come to grips with what compassion actually involves. Business leaders are demanding and tend to take hard-nosed approaches. But sometimes, showing compassion to workers isn’t just good for them as individuals; businesses can ultimately reap the benefits. Recent studies and findings have recognised compassion as an essential aspect of a productive work environment (Dutton, Workman, and Hardin, 2014). Simply, companies which value compassion will perform better.
In 2004, administrative science expert, Kim Cameron, published his research on the effects of what he termed virtuousness on business revenues. Cameron found that more compassionate workplaces were more productive. And, of course, more productive workers meant that companies’ finances were healthier. What’s more, his research showed that compassionate companies were better at retaining both clients and employees. Another benefit to compassion is that it’s a potential source of innovation. Studies like Cameron’s are an anomaly. Other researchers in related fields and their body of work confirm and verify this research. These, too, indicated the power of compassion.
Furthermore, the vital tools needed when becoming compassionate in business are inquiry and curiosity. But in most companies, these tools are seen as soft, airy-fairy and sentimental. Unfortunately, these interpretations are harmful because they perpetuate the notion that compassion is an emotion with no role in the workplace. Not to state the obvious, but communal compassion doesn’t emerge out of nowhere. It often takes a fair amount of active encouragement and participation on the part of companies. But there’s a flip side to the coin. Great leaders aren’t just compassionate on their terms, they also inspire others to behave similarly. Sometimes this needs nothing more than purely and straightforwardly communicating the importance of compassion within the workplace. For example, LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner wrote a piece on ‘Managing Compassionately’.
Weiner explained that compassionate leadership was one of his most significant aims in leading LinkedIn. However, he also freely admitted just how hard a task it was, and we would concur. As we have realised, compassion is not as easy to achieve as one might first suspect. First, it can’t just be willed, and businesses have to notice when the communities they operate in need help, and are confronted with challenges. Next, companies have to interpret these challenges correctly and empathise with their employees and the communities in need. And then, to top it all off, companies have to take appropriate and compassionate actions to help their employees and communities in need.
Fundamentally, the future workforce and consumer base depend entirely on a functioning society. Consequently, companies must support societal well-being if they want to continue existing and prospering in the future. Moreover, in today’s fast-paced business world, businesses having a soul is the key to success.
Great business leaders lead with compassion and encourage others to be just as empathetic. Although it’s human nature to turn to leaders in times of trouble, we need them for orientation and guidance. That’s why business leaders need to be compassionate. If they are, others are sure to follow. Put simply, the most outstanding leaders lead with compassion.
Compassion, as a principle of company management, increases company performance and fosters innovation. It also creates more rewarding and enjoyable workplaces, the benefits of which can be noticed by employees and company leaders alike. After all, compassionate workplaces have lower employee turnover rates. However, compassion requires a certain amount of attention and investment, and awareness of typical patterns that businesses fall into.
Businesses should reflect more often on compassion in the workplace. Or, ask themselves where they failed to act with compassion, was this lack of compassion connected to a pattern or culture within their company? But most importantly, what could they do to change this? The CSR agenda is dynamic, and it stirs and provokes considerable debate and varied interpretations.
CSR compels companies to set the bar higher than meeting minimum standards and ticking boxes about legal compliances. By considering relationships between the company vision, mission and philosophy, beliefs, actions and results, steps can be taken toward building a compassionate company.
Cameron, K. (2004). Ethics and Ethos: The Buffering and Amplifying Effects of Ethical Behaviour and Virtuousness. Journal of Business Ethics.
Dutton, J.E., Workman, K.M., and Hardin, A.E. (2014). Compassion at work.
Worline, M, C., and Dutton, J, E. (2017). Awakening Compassion at Work – The Quiet Power that Elevate People and Organizations. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Weiner, J. (2012). Managing Compassionately. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20121015034012-22330283-managing-compassionately/
About the Writers:
Romein is a (self-confessed) Pan-Africanist by heart. Romein is a multi-disciplinary professional with experience in various sectors. Contact him via ([email protected])
Ebenezer is a Development Communication Practitioner, a Sustainability Enthusiast, Finance & Investment Analyst, and a WriterPreneur. He`s Country Director of PIRON Global Development and Branch Manager of People Investor AG. Contact him: [email protected] & [email protected]