UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 5 | Mar.
Compassion heightens workplace performance, research suggests
Caring companies make for loyal employees, say scholars
by Helen Lewis staff writer
The responses to the tragedy of Sept. 11 were poles apart. When
seven TJX employees died aboard one of the planes that hit the World
Trade Center, the president and CEO acted quickly. He gathered his
staff and broke the news, called in grief counsellors and chartered
a plane to bring the victims' relatives to the company's Massachusetts
Employees were offered time off, but most chose to keep working
and supporting each other following the attacks.
By contrast, the heads of a publishing company close to ground
zero declared "business as usual" immediately after the disaster,
giving scant support to employees. One editor was called at home
early on Sept. 12, her bosses demanding to know why she was late
for a meeting. Her loyalty to the company, she says, began trickling
away that day.
How companies like these show -- or fail to show -- compassion
to employees in pain is being studied at CompassionLab, a joint
project of UBC and the University of Michigan (UM).
CompassionLab -- a diverse group of researchers rather than a
bricks-and-mortar facility -- includes UBC Commerce Prof. Peter
Frost, UM Business School Prof. Jane Dutton, UBC Commerce
Asst. Prof. Sally Maitlis, and Jason Kanov, Monica Worline and Jacoba
Lilius of UM's Psychology Dept.
CompassionLab examines the importance and the effects of compassion
in the workplace and it's an area of research that is increasingly
in demand, says CompassionLab co-founder Frost. "These days we depend
on people's intellectual and emotional capacity to get a competitive
edge, so we need to look at people as an investment, not a cost.
And if you're investing in people you must invest in the whole person,
not just their hands or their brains," he says.
"A growing body of research shows when organizations put people
first, their performance on almost all indicators is better. In
times of trauma, people aren't focused on their job or their organization
-- they're focused on the pain. But if people are cared for when
they're vulnerable, it makes it possible for them to move on more
quickly and become productive again."
CompassionLab's work does not focus solely on responses to Sept.
11. Pain in the workplace existed long before that, the researchers
say, and comes in different forms.
On an individual scale, an employee may be diagnosed with cancer,
lose a family member or face divorce, while examples of larger-scale
trauma include natural disasters, fire destroying a manufacturing
plant or mass layoffs.
The lab's "subject" organizations have been chosen by recommendation
-- Cisco, Newsweek and Macy's were identified as organizations showing
compassion -- and by direct invitations from companies.
"It's early days but we've got rich data and some very provocative
hypotheses which we'll be able to take further with the extensive
data we're collecting in organizational sites," Frost says.
For more information about CompassionLab and compassionate workplaces,