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Awakening Compassion at Work

The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations

By Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton
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Awakening Compassion at Work by Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton

Awakening Compassion at Work (2017) considers the role of compassion in the workplace. It demonstrates the methods individuals and organizations can use to develop a culture of empathy and compassion, and shows how individuals and companies alike can benefit from such an approach.

Key idea 1 of 9

Work can be tough to endure, but companies needn’t make their employees suffer.

If you’re one of the many people who leave home to go to work each day, you know that, more often than not, putting up with nonsense and stress is just part of the job. Suffering through stress is such a common issue at work, it’s easy to forget that it’s a real problem.

It’s sad, but work can cause people to suffer unnecessarily.

Patty offers just such an example. The authors met her while they were conducting research on the role of compassion in the workplace.

Patty was an executive assistant who worked for several managers within a company. She loved her work and was particularly good at developing strong connections with her managers. She simply understood them and knew how to anticipate their needs.

Then, the company decided to restructure, and a series of key tasks were randomly distributed among the company’s various executive assistants. Patty got the message about the change late on a Friday evening, and on Monday morning she had already been relocated to a remote building.

Patty quickly found herself isolated and dispirited. To top it off, her prime skill of relationship building with the managers couldn’t be exercised anymore.

This just goes to show that some management styles will cause unnecessary suffering when the impact on the employees isn’t taken into consideration.

But some companies can and do minimize employees’ suffering – the answer lies in compassionate leadership.

During their research, the authors met a company leader called Andy. One day, during a meeting, he’d noticed that one of his best employees, Xian, was looking particularly despondent. So he asked Xian what was up.

Xian explained that his sister had died in an accident in China. But even though he was grieving, Xian had decided to still come to work.

In his position as a leader, Andy had to decide how to respect Xian’s personal life within a professional setting. He opted for compassion. Xian was told he could take whatever time off he needed and would be encouraged to speak with Andy any time he felt it was necessary. Andy even invited Xian to spend time at his home and meet his family.

This compassionate approach worked, and Xian was able to manage his grief successfully.

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