What Cultivating a Compassionate Corporate Culture Can Do for Your Business

What Cultivating a Compassionate Corporate Culture Can Do for Your Business

Tough leaders get more from their employees. Is this true?  Sure, successful leaders need to hold people accountable, set high standards, push for stringent monitoring of failures as well as successes and often, make wrenchingly painful decisions. But is tough, enough?

Recent research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman emphatically says no.

The two recently published the findings of a major survey of 161,000 employees (working for 31,000 leaders) to determine what management style generated the highest levels of employee satisfaction.

Looking particularly at employees who expressed the greatest levels of satisfaction, they found:

  • 8.9% of those who had tough leaders were in the top 10% of satisfied employees,
  • 6.7% of those who had nice leaders were in the top 10%
  • But 68% of those who had both tough and nice leaders were in the top 10%

So, what exactly is nice and why does it matter in the workplace? In her book The Meaning of Nice: How Compassion and Civility Can Change Your Life (And the World), Joan Duncan Oliver thoroughly dissects the word nice and how it applies in your world.   Her working definition included polite, generous, social, kind and compassionate.

It’s not difficult to understand why being nice – politeness, generosity kindness should be important qualities of leadership. But what about compassion, what does this even look like in the workplace?

Compassion is often confused with empathy. Empathy is an emotional experience of another’s feelings. Compassion is the recognition of another’s suffering and an authentic desire to help.

Compassion feeds the bottom line

Emma Seppala, the Associate Director at the Centre for Compassion & Altruism Research & Education (CCARE) at Stanford, argues “when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line”.

To compete effectively in a fast paced, ever changing world, leaders need employees to be at their best. And losing talented team members to more engaging, humane-centered work cultures is something few businesses can afford. In attracting, engaging and keeping top talent the promotion of mutual trust, connection and compassion can be critically important. CCARE’s research indicates that employees are likely to forgive, have less fear of failure and more resilience when they are treated with compassion and in turn act compassionately towards others.

Compassion can reduce stress and improve productivity

Interesting still, are the findings that a recent study by Cassie Mogilner of the Wharton Business School found that when participants helped others this increased their perception that they were less pressed for time. The subjective impression of having more time to achieve things can reduce stress and enable individuals to work more effectively and creatively. In a course I teach on Leading Innovation, one of the main reasons leaders say their teams aren’t more innovative is they don’t feel they have enough time!

Compassion can be learned, encouraged and practiced

Is it possible to cultivate a culture of compassion in the workplace? Karen Armstrong certainly believes so. As the result of a TED prize, she created the Charter of Compassion that is being adopted by increasing numbers of individuals, communities and businesses around the world. Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life include the following suggestions:

  • Spend a day ‘tuning in’ to how people around you are feeling.
  • Find a mindfulness practice that you can incorporate into your daily life.
  • Become aware of when your thoughts are hurtful or unkind. Watch where this awareness shifts your actions into a more compassionate direction.
  • Take a look around your organization. Are there any practices or policies contributing to a lack of compassion? What can you change?
  • Notice where you may be showing a lack of compassion to yourself. Extending compassion begins with self-compassion.
  • Compassion for others can also come from understanding where our own suffering has occurred. What have you experienced?  What have you learned?  How can you use that to help others in your workplace?

This week in Belgium at the World Forum for Ethics in Business 2013, business leaders will continue to explore how to bring more compassion into the business of business. They are guided by a simple precept; compassion is worth pursuing in it’s own right, but it’s also good for business.


 Laura Mack is a Conductor with ViRTUS, specializing in emotional intelligence, authentic leadership, strategic planning, leadership development and volunteers with the North Shore Restorative Justice Society as a facilitator of restorative justice.


Laura Mack
  • dianacreyers
    Posted at 00:35h, 13 November Reply

    Great post Laura!! Being nice is something that we have all done naturally at one point in our life. I feel that society has created an expectation that nice is non-productive when, in fact, being nice creates a genuine feeling of appreciation which then evolves into enthusiasm, passion and creativity, and ultimately, productivity. Thanks for reiterating that how I feel is always right for me xo

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