Compassion at Work and Why it Matters

person sitting and holding up a red square with frown face drawn on itBy Jaimie Hutchison

Organizational psychologists make the case that organizations do best when the leadership pays attention to the emotional needs of their employees and show compassion. Compassion in the workplace is crucial to building a trusting environment where psychological safety is at the forefront.

It is inevitable that people will experience difficulty when faced with stressful and difficult life changes, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, injury, health issues and life transitions that can cause stress and emotional overload. There is a risk that this can spill over into the workplace and impact performance. In fact, many employees will struggle in silence, feeling that their work life and home life should be kept separate. A growing body of research suggests that attending to personal hardships at work doesn’t hinder an organization but helps it. Responding compassionately to employees improves their performance and loyalty and creates an atmosphere that is safe for learning, collaboration, and innovation.  People connect better to others when they are cared for themselves. Safe working environments are strengthened by showing compassion to one another.

What can you do?

  • Take Notice: Paying attention to cues that someone is struggling, such as body language, tone of voice, or unusual work patterns, and gently inquiring if something may be going on in a private setting is key.
  • Interpretation: Consider people’s difficulty to be real and worthy. Do not judge how you think you would feel if a pet died, a spouse was diagnosed with diabetes, or a scheduled knee surgery was approaching. Just consider the person’s feelings as significant and worthy of compassion.
  • Feeling: Empathizing with others. Keep an open-door policy, stay after a meeting to check in with someone, ask someone out to lunch to catch up, build relationships that naturally encourage empathetic responses.
  • Acting: Taking compassionate actions that can differ depending on the situation. Offering a listening ear, offering flexibility, reassurance around job security, or a note can show you understand and care.

All employees can assist in building a culture of compassion by having regular meetings where people are encouraged to share achievements, mistakes and make the workplace safe for learning. Emphasize humanitarian achievements and commitment to doing good to inspire others, role-modeling vulnerability to create an atmosphere of safety and trust.

Leaders: If you discover that an employee is experiencing a hardship, reach out to them within 48 hours to offer support. Offer more connection time, team building activities or trainings, time at meetings for sharing good news, or other ways to encourage employee connection. Finally, practice self-compassion and model this to your staff.

If you don’t know where to start, be sure to have resources on hand about the MSU WorkLife Office,Health4U, Employee Assistance Program(EAP) and other programs that provide support to employees. Remember, if faculty or staff are in need of resources inside or outside of MSU, they can schedule a confidential* consultation with the MSU WorkLife Office.


*The WorkLife Office is confidential, but staff are mandatory reporters in relation to Title IX and RVSM policies.