Compassion, defined as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others, is a trait we've always valued in our personal relationships. But how often is it discussed in terms of the workplace? Is the workplace meant to be a "dog-eat-dog" kind of experience where everyone is out for himself, never worrying about the woes of colleagues? Or, can compassion be helpful in most, if not all, workplaces?

A 16-month longitudinal study at a long-term health care facility with 185 employees, 108 patients, and 42 of the patients' family members was conducted to test how the employees treated the patients and families versus their colleagues. The researchers found that there was lower absenteeism and employee burnout, as well as higher levels of employee engagement with their work with greater teamwork and employee satisfaction. In addition, the culture of compassion spread to patients and their families. Then, to see if the same positive results would be found in industries such as real estate, finance, and public utilities, they performed a second study involving 3,201 employees in seven different industries. Again, a greater culture of compassion in the workplace led to greater work satisfaction, commitment, and accountability.

Now that we are learning that a more compassionate workplace results in more positive work relationships, increased cooperation, better customer relations, and reduced stress, the question begs to be asked: What steps can we take to develop or increase a compassionate workplace?

1. Try a morning ritual where you literally set a positive tone for your day. This could be done at the end of a session of mindfulness meditation. I am lucky in this life of mine. I will send positive thoughts to others today, especially those who seem to be sad or suffering. I'm going to avoid all anger, and seek to find that which I can learn from others. My calm attitude will spread from one colleague to the next as I smile at each person I meet today.

2. Look for what you have in common with others today. Recognizing that which is the same about you and others, especially others with whom you are not good friends, helps diminish the things that may tear you apart. You may also come to understand why someone has a certain reaction, and you may be able to more readily relate to his situation.

3. Practice intentional, but random, acts of kindness. They could be small acts, like getting someone else a cup of coffee when you're getting your own or sending an email to a colleague to thank him for something he did well, or just something he did to help you do your job better. You could also opt for a larger act like helping someone who is overworked or seems overwhelmed with all there is on his "to do" list.

4. Start a gratitude journal where each day you write three new things you are grateful for at work. Before you know it, you will find your brain looking for additional positive things that you can then write about later in the journal.

5. Each night write about your day. Pick one or two of the most positive events that happened that day. Write what happened, what your role was in the event, how the others involved reacted, and exactly how it made you feel.

Giving yourself the gift of a compassionate workplace will change your outlook, improve your moods, and increase your gratitude for this world and your place in it.

Let me know how it goes! I'd love to hear about one positive interaction you have as a result of this practice.

Good luck!

Dr Wolbe can be contacted via her website

The Wall

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