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Bringing out the compassion in your social business

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Bringing out the compassion in your social business

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I’ve written a few times recently about the value of conscientiousness to a social business, and how caring for your peers encourages collaborative behaviours.  A new study into workplace compassion highlights the value it can bring, both to employees and the organizations they work for.

The researchers undertook a 16 month long longitudinal study at a healthcare facility.  They wanted to determine whether compassion in the workplace helped both the employees, but also the patients at the facility.

The study tested for evidence of tenderness, compassion, affection and caring between employees.  Rather than simply asking employees to gauge their own display of such emotions, they asked them instead to rate compassion in their colleagues.  They also enrolled independent judges to rate employees for the four behaviours, as well as asking patients to rate employees.

A healthcare facility was chosen due to the apparent abundance of compassion in such a workplace.

“In these facilities, you have people dealing with residents who are there for a long time. You have employees who have chosen a caring industry,” researchers say. “So it was a natural first stop for looking at the concept of emotional culture. Even though this has to do with how employees are treating each other, and not necessarily how they are treating their clients, we argue that if they treat each other with caring, compassion, tenderness and affection, that will spill over to residents and their families.”

A major finding from the study was that a culture of compassion at work increases employee engagement.  Employees would report lower levels of emotional exhaustion and lower absentee rates.  What’s more, teamwork was reported as being better, and employees were generally happier at work.

“The view that dominated our field for 20 years was that anytime you engage in emotional labor — meaning you’re changing or regulating your emotions for a wage –that’s going to lead to burnout,” they conclude. “What we’re suggesting is that it’s more complicated than that. It may well be that even if you don’t start out feeling the culture of love — even if you’re just enacting it — it can lead to these positive outcomes. In addition, there is the possibility that as you enact companionate love, you will begin to feel it over time.”

What’s more, the compassion would prove viral in nature, infecting patients and their families too, making the whole experience more rewarding for all concerned.

Now, obviously a healthcare facility is an environment ripe for compassion.  The researchers wanted to test their findings in a more typical work environment however, so conducted a second study featuring 3,201 employees across seven different industries.  Their findings from the original study were replicated, with compassion at work correlating with higher job satisfaction, commitment to the company and accountability for performance.

“What we found is that companionate love does matter across a broad range of industries, including those as diverse as real estate, finance and public utilities,” they say. “But the interesting thing is that even though the overall baseline of companionate love can differ across industries, there was as much of a difference within industries as between industries. Overall, we found that — regardless of the industry baseline — to the extent that there’s a greater culture of companionate love, that culture is associated with greater satisfaction, commitment and accountability.”

Compassion is often seen as something too fluffy to worry about at work, but this study, together with ones referenced earlier, support the suggestion that it is instead rather fundamental to the formation of a social business.

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