The Quiet Power that Elevates People and Organizations

Awakening Compassion at Work

 

Someone once told me that if you treat everyone as if they are suffering in some way, you will be right most of the time.

Throughout my life, I’ve remembered the wisdom in this advice. Some leaders have told me that work is a place where you focus on business results and anything else is a waste of time. How short-sighted and wrong.

Suffering in the workplace is a reality and a natural part of life. It’s an unquantified drain on productivity. It can prevent people from doing their best.

Monica C. Worline, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EnlivenWork, an innovation organization that teaches compassionate leadership. She is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and she is the executive director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work. Monica holds a lectureship at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and is an affiliate faculty member at the Center for Positive Organizations. She and her colleague Jane E. Dutton, Ph.D., are co-authors of the new book Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power that Elevates People and Organizations. 

I recently spoke with her about compassion at work.

 

“The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.” –Albert Schweitzer

 

Compassion at work isn’t something we typically think about, but we should. Tell us more about your research and findings about compassion at work.

It’s true, Skip, we do need to think more about compassion at work—especially if we care about generating great business results—because over the past fifteen years, my co-author Jane Dutton and I have been doing research that demonstrates that compassion is central to human-based capabilities in organizations. As a CEO yourself, I’m sure you are aware that there is an epidemic of disengagement and despair at work. By some measures, up to 70 percent of people don’t feel like anyone cares about them when they go to work every day. That leaves them emotionally out in the cold. They may physically show up, but psychologically they’re checked out.  Compassion is an overlooked, undervalued essential asset in today’s workplace.

 


Up to 70% of people don’t feel anyone cares about them at work.

 

Why is compassion at work so important?

In our bookAwakening Compassion at Work, we offer a full business case for compassion as a source of strategic advantage for organizations. This is something many business leaders haven’t considered, but there is now reliable evidence from a variety of disciplines of research to support that compassion fuels the capability for high-quality service delivery, better innovation, collaboration, and adaptation to change. Compassion at work helps an organization retain its most talented people and its most valuable clients—that’s why it is so important for leaders like yourself. But on the human side of work, let me be quick to add that many people still carry around the myth that suffering should be kept outside of the workplace, and it’s really important to challenge that myth. The reality is that work is suffused with suffering—both brought in from home and created within the workplace—and compassion is the answer to helping to heal this suffering. But left unacknowledged and unaddressed, suffering robs workplaces of humanity, dignity, and motivation.

 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” –Dalai Lama

 

How to Respond to Suffering

Redesign Your Life

 

Everything Can Be Redesigned

What do you think of when you think of design?

You may think about one of those designer shows on TV that completely redecorates a living space. Perhaps you think of designing consumer products with packaging that enhances a brand. I think of Steve Jobs and his famous quote: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” –Steve Jobs

 

“Design is how it works.” –Steve Jobs

 

Design isn’t just for products. It’s also for lives. Designing a life that serves others is a worthy goal.

And, if something isn’t serving us well, we can redesign it and everything changes.

BJ Miller has a unique perspective on redesign that caught my attention. He wants to redesign dying. As a palliative care physician and long term patient, his ideas are both personal and professional. His story is compelling. While climbing a commuter train with some buddies in college, he was electrocuted, severely burned, and lost three limbs. Today, he specializes in end-of-life care at the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. His purpose is to serve others by helping them die with dignity and grace, with no regrets or undue suffering.

 

“Design is a solution to a problem. Art is a question to a problem.” –John Maeda

 

Hospitals were not designed as a place to live and die. Healthcare providers mean well, but when someone dies in a sterile hospital setting among the beeping of the background noise and the bright fluorescent lights, the body is wheeled away, and there remains a numbness. It feels like the world should stop for a moment because a life was lost, but instead the room is quickly prepped for the next patient.

 

“We have a monumental opportunity before us…to redesign how it is we die.” –BJ Miller

 

With planning, end of life can bring us closer through compassion. There is not a magic reset button for end of life; there are no do-overs. In this TED Talk, B.J. Miller lays out real life examples of human connection through our senses. When one of the residents dies at the Zen Hospice Project, the body is wheeled through the garden. Songs and stories are shared while flower petals are placed on the body. Mourning is guided in with warmth.

It’s a beautiful redesign of the inevitable.

 

“Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” -Jeffrey Zeldman

 

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Review Your Goals and Start Your Own Redesign Plan

The approach reminded me that any aspect of life could be redesigned.

No matter what area of your life needs redesigning, you have the incredible opportunity to start again. It doesn’t even have to be major. There are times when acting on the small things makes all the difference. Here’s to your redesign plan!

 

“Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.” –Brian Reed