Compassion at the core of resilient organisations
In times of crisis, organisations that foster compassionate management practices emerge stronger.
Compassion is not usually a term we think of in relation to organisations, but in times of crisis, research shows that organisations that foster compassionate management practices, including a supportive workplace culture and leadership, emerge stronger.
“Organisational compassion counts in a crisis,” says University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School Associate Fellow, Dr Ace Simpson, whose research focuses on organisational behaviour and the promotion of employee wellbeing and psychological safety.
“Every organisation depends on compassion to function. Our research demonstrates that broad-based compassion engenders employee commitment, engagement, trust, loyalty and productivity as well as enhancing areas such as creativity and innovation,” he says.
Dr Simpson recently worked with an Australian health district, including six hospitals, to enhance organisational compassion capabilities and reduce workplace bullying. He also examined employer and employee responses to the Brisbane floods in 2011.
“When it comes to a crisis, it's difficult to fake compassion. Like a cat caught in headlights, how an organisation responds as it moves to survival mode reflects its general culture,” Dr Simpson says.
“A facet of being human, however unfortunate, is suffering. It can be of a personal nature, such as the death of a loved one, or a relationship breakdown, it could be health-related or the result of an unforseen disaster, such as the coronavirus pandemic we face now.
“There are always colleagues who are looking out for and supporting one another. That's how we get through life. The question is whether an organisation recognises and supports that or not. We term these things as organisational compassion capabilities,” he says.
Together with Distinguished Professor Stewart Clegg, Professor Miguel Pina e Cunha and Professor Arménio Rego, Dr Simpson has just published a book ‘Positive Organizational Behaviour: A reflective approach’ which provides practical tools and examples of positive organisational practices.
When compassion is deeply embedded within organisational leadership, culture, routines, espoused values and communication, this benefits not only businesses and employees, but also customers and the wider community.
Dr Ace Simpson
Professor Clegg says he came to positive organisational scholarship, surprisingly, through the study of really evil organisations, such as the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, or the Magdalene laundries in Ireland, known for their abuse of women.
“Using these extreme cases, I demonstrated that these organisations were not somehow off the scale, they just depended on the intensification of some normal organisation tendencies, says Professor Clegg, who was then encouraged to examine the other side of the ledger.
“That work too often sucks rather than sustains, negates rather than nourishes the spirit, is the dismal reality. There is now abundant research, however, suggesting ways to manage people decently rather than dreadfully,” he says.
Dr Simpson, who is also a Reader in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour at Brunel Business School, says organisational compassion can be defined as a fourfold process captured with an acronym “NEAR”.
“N is for noticing the suffering of a colleague. E is for empathising with their feelings and the emotions they're going through. A is for assessing and understanding the circumstances of their struggles and R is for responding to alleviate their distress,” he says.
“When compassion is deeply embedded within organisational leadership, culture, routines, espoused values and communication, this benefits not only businesses and employees, but also customers and the wider community.”
Dr Simpson and Professor Clegg recently took part in a webinar for the UTS Centre for Business and Social Innovation on 'Positive Psychology and Organisational Scholarship: Resilience, Compassion and Wellbeing in times of Challenge' Listen to the webinar here.