Contours and Consequences

In this paper, we use a combination of narrative and survey methods to explore the contours and consequences of compassion at work. Stories of compassion at work provide testimony to its power in cultivating positive identification with the workplace and with one’s co-workers. Survey findings suggest that the experience of compassion at work is positively related to people’s commitment to the organization and to their positive emotions at work. Taken together, these findings show that the expression of compassion is one way in which people make sense of the organization where they work and is an important moment for making sense of who we can be at work and how we can relate with our co-workers.

Read the abstract

This paper describes two studies that explore core questions about compassion at work. Findings from a pilot survey indicate that compassion occurs with relative frequency among a wide variety of individuals, suggesting a relationship between experienced compassion, positive emotion, and affective commitment. A complementary narrative study reveals a wide range of compassion triggers and illuminates ways that work colleagues respond to suffering. The narrative analysis demonstrates that experienced compassion provides important sensemaking occasions where employees who receive, witness, or participate in the delivery of compassion reshape understandings of their co-workers, themselves, and their organizations. Together these studies map the contours of compassion at work, provide evidence of its powerful consequences, and open a horizon of new research questions.

From Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 193–218 (2008)

“Although the study of compassion has a long tradition in religion, medicine, and sociology, it has a relatively short history in organizational behavior (Frost et al., 2006). Only recently have we begun to learn about the positive effects of compassion at work or the organizational conditions under which it arises. The impact of compassion was initially revealed by employees who described how valued and connected they felt after receiving compassionate acts from others in the organization (Dutton et al., 2002; Frost et al., 2000). Using an in-depth case study to examine the occurrence of a large-scale compassionate response, Dutton, Worline, Frost, and Lilius (2006) showed that whether the social coordination of compassion is activated and mobilized depends on an organization’s social architecture and the agency of those in the organization. Despite these insights, many questions about the nature and impact of compassion at work still remain unanswered, such as the kinds of suffering that trigger acts of compassion at work, who gives and receives it, the different forms compassion takes in organizations, and consequences for those who receive, witness, or participate in delivery of compassion.

In the present paper, we begin to address these questions through two complementary studies. In so doing, we surface the painful situations that are part of the tapestry of everyday organizational life and illuminate the informal kinds of compassionate responses that often go unnoticed by those further from the site of suffering. These studies together result in a view of the deep connections that exist in work organizations but are often missed in studies that regard workplaces simply as sites of economic transactions or task and service execution.”


Read the whole paper

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *