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Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations by Jane Dutton and Monica Worline

What is Compassion at Work?

For many reasons, your fellow workers are suffering. Whether the causes of that suffering originate in the workplace or are imported from life at large, the consequences for the sufferer as well as others may be regrettable. The biggest obstacle to compassion at work lies in noticing it.

How Compassion Differs from Other Emotions

Suffering always precedes compassion. If nobody notices the suffering wherever it appears compassion will neither be triggered nor acted upon. In our culture, the individual often feels shame or embarrassment in exhibiting suffering in the workplace. There is a lingering belief that either competence or commitment may be questioned in those who show signs of suffering, especially at work. Consequently, many workers who are in pain of some sort mask their suffering while their colleagues miss or ignore it. Finally, the scale of many contemporary organizations and the frequency of staff turnover require deliberate, continuous attention to organizations’ changing and growing workforces.

Compassionate awakening breaks down into four distinct steps:

1. Noticing – The portal to awakening compassion
2. Interpreting – The key to responding with compassion
3. Feeling – The bridge to compassionate action
4. Acting ­– The moves that alleviate suffering at work

Compassionate intervention strategies within the organization

The overall aim of the compassionate organization is to build a socially competent architecture underpinning other formal structures. Authors Dutton and Worline identify four main functional capacities or approaches:

1. Envisioning – Finding and clarifying patterns to strengthen compassionate intervention
2. Understanding – Selecting appropriate symbols, stories, actions, and resource allocation
3. Designing – Creating a responsive and robust architecture to imbue decisions with compassion
4. Leading – Applying interpersonal skills, modeling behaviour, surfacing suffering, extending compassion from work to home

Tools and Resources:

Blueprints for individuals, organizations and overcoming obstacles.

To build a compassion architecture requires procedures that allow awakening and growth of the quality within the organization and between its members without jeopardizing the relationships or networks that would underpin that architecture. The authors of Awakening Compassion at Work have structured procedural templates in the form of revealing questions for individuals and organizations seeking to awaken compassion. As well, the blueprint set includes a checklist to address problems, concerns or issues that might arise.

1. Personal – Begins with a skill rating respecting noticing, interpreting, feeling and acting; identifies strengths and challenges; strengthening capacity for personal and group participation; self-assesses empathy and concern; and gauges the ability to act appropriately.

2. Organizational – Estimates the resources allocated to alleviate suffering, rates the speed, scope, magnitude and customization of efforts according to need; tracks plans to prioritize preparation accordingly; notes competence respecting strategy and action; reviews measures of size and allotment of compassion provision; develops networks and culture; assigns roles and routines.

3. Overcoming obstacles – Identifies the most compelling story for compassion; lists what must change; develops a springboard to action while noting shortfalls and planning how to overcome consequences and risks to an effective compassion architecture.

Why compassion at work is important

◦ Compassion enhances the bottom line in terms of greater profits and higher productivity.

◦ Shows compassion towards suffering workers increases likelihood of employee retention.

◦ Compassion sensitivity develops collective capability and collaborative skills.

◦ Using compassion to find new ways to work effectively builds the capacity for learning and innovation among all involved.

◦ Attendance to service quality is enhanced through higher care levels.

◦ Compassion builds engagement and commitment.

◦ By prompting accommodation and providing relief, compassion strengthens and extends adaptability throughout the workplace.