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Unveiling the True Essence of a Compassionate Workplace

There is an abundance of evidence which demonstrates that building a culture of compassion at work has far reaching benefits for personal and organisational wellbeing. But in order to harness a compassionate environment at work, it’s important to know what we are working towards; how do we know that the environment we are in and the ethos we are promoting is one which facilitates and enhances compassion?

The Key Behaviours of a Compassionate Workplace

West (2021) highlights 4 key behaviours which should be present within the fabric and flow of a truly compassionate culture: attending, understanding, empathising and helping. Let’s look at each of these in turn, to explore what we really mean by these and what this might look like within an organisational context:

Attending- This means opening ourselves up to really listen to the needs, experiences and minds of others. Kilne (2002) highlights the importance of “listening with fascination”, whereby we are willing to really hear, with openness and courage, the suffering of others. When we really listen openly and whole heartedly, we facilitate honest communication pathways that demonstrate to employees that their needs matter.

Understanding-When we seek to understand, we take the time to really allow others to feel seen, exploring their unique experiences with curiosity. Seeking to understand means that we ask open questions which might sound like “tell me more..”, “this is my understanding, does that match yours or are we on different pages here…”, “help me understand…” and “I’m curious about….”. These questions are asked from a position of non-judgment, respect and the assumption of positive intent.

Empathising– By empathising with others, we take on board their perspective and are moved by their suffering. Demonstrating empathy involves having the courage to show up as our authentic selves, as only by doing this can we really create human connections which are underpinned by empathy, validation and mutual respect.

Helping-When we help, we take thoughtful, informed and personalised action with the aim of supporting individuals and the organisation as a whole to thrive. We can only offer meaningful help when we have attended, understood and empathised with another’s experience to ensure that our actions are in line with the needs being expressed.

Compassion in Action

So how do we see these behaviours at play within a workplace and how can we embrace these to ensure that they inform the organisational culture? These principles should be applied at all levels of the workplace; the conversations, working arrangements, environment and processes which guide decision making. They should be held at the heart of every team member and embodied and embraced by everyone within it. They should be more than ideals or values displayed on a wall, and conversations should routinely come back to how the organisation is working towards and away from these. When we hold these key values in mind each and every day, we start to see how they can permeate the fabric and flow of the organisation.

A Day in the Life of a Compassionate Workplace

Being part of a compassionate workplace starts with employees arriving at the office with a sense of purpose and enthusiasm. They are greeted by a warm and welcoming environment, where everyone is treated with respect and kindness.

Throughout the day, employees have opportunities to engage in meaningful work that aligns with their values and passions. They are given autonomy and trust to make decisions and contribute their unique perspectives, feeling confident that these will be heard. Collaboration and teamwork are encouraged, with open communication channels and regular check-ins to ensure everyone feels seen and supported.

In this compassionate workplace, leaders prioritise the well-being of their employees. They promote work-life balance, offering flexible schedules and remote working options when needed. Mental health and self-care are valued, with resources and support readily available. These are meaningful, responsive to the needs of the employees and prioritised. They are seen as one part of the puzzle and never a ‘quick fix’. Through these programs, team members are supported to build awareness of their own armour: the processes we get caught up in as human beings when we feel threatened or unsafe. Everyone takes responsibility to recognise what they are bringing to work, and are supported to utilise a toolkit of strategies to enhance psychological awareness and build their compassionate resilience.

Recognition and appreciation are also key components of a compassionate workplace. Employees are acknowledged for their hard work and achievements, both publicly and privately. Feedback is provided meaningfully to employees, focused on collaboration, goals, priorities, and strengths. This is offered constructively and with empathy, focusing on growth and development rather than criticism.

In this environment, conflicts are addressed promptly and respectfully. Mediation and conflict resolution strategies are employed to ensure a healthy and harmonious work environment. Empathy and understanding are at the core of these discussions, fostering understanding and compromise.

Team meetings and team discussions are a place of collaboration where an open and honest approach is valued. Staff at all levels feel safe enough to show up as their authentic selves, safe in the knowledge that differences of opinion and unique ideas can be discussed from a place of respect and empathy.

Leaders are able to manage key performance indicators with courage and authenticity. They make important and challenging decisions from a mindset which acknowledges the challenges of the human mind, motivated to maintain boundaries from a place of compassion rather than threat.

At the end of the day, employees leave the workplace feeling fulfilled and valued. They know that their contributions matter and that they are part of a compassionate community. This positive energy extends beyond the workplace, as employees carry the values of compassion and empathy into their personal lives.

Overall, a compassionate workplace is characterized by a supportive and nurturing environment, where employees are empowered to thrive and make a difference and leaders feel able to manage organisational success with courage and an ongoing commitment to a compassionate climate. A compassionate workplace is not a destination, it is not something that can be ticked off as complete before we move on to the next goal. Maintaining a compassionate workplace is a journey which requires constant attention and maintenance in order to ensure that it continues to shape the organisational narratives each and every day and within each and every interaction.