New research is helping us to understand how workplace systems and cultures can be created which foster and promote compassion.
As identified by Dutton, one of the important first steps in building a compassionate workplace is putting that ambition at the heart of the organization’s strategy. This can mean both including it amongst “company values” (or similar) and ensuring that the cultivation of a compassionate culture is baked-in to any internal or human resource strategies.
From this should flow specific policies which communicate to staff that they are valued and supported – not just as workers but as human beings. Kanov, Worline, Dutton and others have identified important policies for developing a compassionate workplace including the provision of compassionate, carer, and parental leave, good pay, and a clear and effective complaints and grievances process.
One of the best ways to ensure that staff feel their views and, if they have them, concerns are understood and recognized is to have a very clear communications structure. It should be obvious to staff who they go to if they have a concern or idea and they should know that their feedback will be handled seriously and with respect. Dutton, Worline and others have also identified the importance of communicating compassionate stories and celebrating examples of compassion as a team as an important step in recognizing and embedding that value.
Part of the paradigm shift necessary in the creation of compassionate workplaces is the recognition that workers are humans with backstories, emotions, and personal strains and difficulties. This needs to be understood and valued rather than ignored or shamed-away. Leaders can play a critical role in this by both showing their own vulnerabilities and inviting staff to be open – if they feel comfortable doing so – about their personal lives and experiences. Meetings and encounters with colleagues should also not just be about “getting work done” but about connecting on a human level.
As argued by Michael West, a key determining factor in the culture of any organization is the example set by its leaders. Leaders need to model kindness, care, acive listening, and empathy. This in turn promotes a more inclusive and empowering workplace. This is in contrast to the more traditional, top-down and domineering style many people are used to or expect.