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How can we cultivate compassion in the workplace?

In the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, many people resumed working from home. Working parents are busy with juggling between work and childcare.  Many workers are forced to take no pay leave. For those who need to work from home, many of them feel burdened by the lack of routine in life and blurring of boundaries for work. Some experts stated that there might be a drastic change on the way we work after the pandemic. For example, business travel might be significantly reduced and substituted by video-meetings. Office-type work could be done remotely from the office and people no longer have a standard 9-to-5-work day. In the face of all these possible changes and the likely economic downturn, it is predicted that the business environment will be full of uncertainties and difficulties in the next few years. It is of paramount importance for us to cultivate a compassionate working environment for our colleagues given the increase demands for our life. What is compassion for workplace and how to cultivate a compassionate working environment?

According to two scholars, Monica Worline and Jane Dutton, compassion at workplace involves being aware of sufferings, making meaning of sufferings, being empathetic to the one who suffers, and taking actions to alleviate sufferings. First of all, it is important for us to inquire our colleagues about their sufferings in order for us to be fully aware of their experiences. We should not prematurely assume that we know the sufferings of our colleagues without a thorough inquiry. For instance, when we notice a colleague’s performance has been deteriorating during work from home and inquire about the possible reasons, we may find out that the colleague’s spouse is having a serious illness and the family is under high level of stress.

Secondly, we need to have a thorough understanding that the sufferings of our colleagues are real and worthy of our attention. Sometimes, people may think others deserve what they suffer and they do not deserve our attention. Instead, we need to give the benefit of the doubt of those who suffer and see them as worthy and deserving for compassion. When we notice our colleagues make mistakes, experience failures, miss deadlines, or absent from work, we need to pay attention to the possible sufferings behind their setback. In fact, we need to cultivate presence in communicating with our colleagues to get to know more about their sufferings.

Thirdly, we also need to cultivate empathy for our colleagues when we are aware of and understand their sufferings. We need to take their perspective instead of perceiving their situation from our own viewpoints. When we talk to our colleagues about their sufferings, we can try to attune to their feelings. Through empathic listening, we can listen deeply on others’ perspectives and attune to their feelings behind the surface. For example, a manager can use empathic listening to understand the difficulty a staff is facing underlying one’s frequent absenteeism.

Last but not least, after understanding the sufferings of our colleagues and being empathetic to their feelings, we need to take action to alleviate their sufferings. Practical strategies, such as flexible working hours or flexible task allocation, might be useful to alleviate the burden of the colleagues who are facing difficulties in life. It is also important to protect the privacy of our colleagues who are in difficult circumstances and prefer to keep their sufferings private.

This is an unusually stressful and uncertain time in history, given the pandemic is still not being well controlled. Many people are suffering in different levels due to different kinds of problems or difficulties in life. Let’s cultivate a compassionate workplace to support each other so that we can overcome different life challenges.

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