September 5, 2023

Creating a Culture of Compassion: Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Week 3 of the Organizational course delivered by Lars Kure Juul through UPEACE Centre for Executive Education continued with the Happiness Sweet Spot, focusing on compassion, compassionate leadership and a compassionate organizational culture.

Lars offers us an easy two-part definition for compassion: “being interested in understanding the difficulties of other people and having a burning desire to help them.” Being compassionate goes beyond being empathetic. Being empathetic is having the ability to understand other people’s situation. Being compassionate means that you act, that you do something to help.

Compassion is the third pillar of the Happiness Sweet Spot which we explored in detail.

The Happiness Sweet Spot, Organizational Happiness, Lars Kure Juul

So, what does it mean to cultivate a culture of compassion in an organization? Culture is an organization’s most precious competitive advantage. However, compassion hasn’t traditionally been something that has a place in business. But it must.

Compassion is a basic human emotion, but one that can be developed. And when we develop compassion in the workplace, employee loyalty increases, and trust, and individual and team performance is improved.  by being conducive to feeling safe.

So how do you cultivate a culture of compassion? It starts with feeling safe. Psychological safety in the workplace is a basic requirement. One of the most well-known projects on psychological safety is Project Aristotle performed with Google teams which concluded that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work. This summarizes very well what psychological safety is: “to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency.

Here are some other things that Lars in his book The Happiness Sweet Spot invites us to do:

  1. Practice presence. Be present, listen and serve.
  2. Think about the emotions you’re expressing to employees every day. Your mood creates a cultural blueprint for the group.
  3. Inspire daily acts of kindness, acts come from the heart and are authentic.
  4. Admit that you don’t know everything. Dare to be vulnerable.
  5. Organize team-building activities. Give your team an opportunity to feel included and connect.

What's the result of a compassionate culture? People, employees and leaders alike, feel like they can be vulnerable, that they can say “I don’t know” or “I need help.” and they will be understood and helped.

A kind reminder to us all, that compassion starts with oneself. That we need to be able to be self-compassionate, to be kind and forgiving to oneself to start with. For some people self-compassion is hard, harder than showing compassion to others, but it’s a must.

I truly believe we are on the right path to humanize the workplace. We are shaping a future of work where people are at the core.

What are your thoughts on compassion in the workplace?

Stay tuned for my insights from week 4 of the course next Tuesday.

Written by Andreea Pap

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