Many executives believe that compassion has no place in the business world. While some fear that showing too much kindness could be perceived as a weakness, others worry that offering a little compassion may encourage employees to take advantage of their employer’s generosity. Ultimately, many bosses feel that they must use pressure—not compassion—to ensure productivity in the workplace.

Despite the concerns, there is clear evidence that compassion in the workplace makes business sense. It not only improves workplace culture, but can also help your company’s bottom line. Cultivating a compassionate environment serves as a win-win situation for everyone.

Here are three important benefits of compassion at the workplace:

1. Employee retention

One of the many benefits of compassion in the workplace is improved employee retention. After all, would you rather work for a boss who yells at you and threatens that your job might be at stake when you ask to go home early because you aren’t feeling well? Or would you prefer the boss who cheers you on and shows understanding when you have to call in sick because you’ve got the flu? Creating a compassionate workplace is one of the best ways to retain employees over the long haul.

2. Decreased stress

One effective way employees can reduce their stress is by gaining support from co-workers. In a compassionate environment the boss doesn’t hover around the water cooler shouting for everyone to get back to work. Instead, employees are given time to engage in healthy amounts of conversation.

When allowed to linger for a few minutes during breaks and hallways, employees are likely to strike up conversations about what goes on in their lives outside the office. Discussions about family, children and hobbies begin to occur. A 2012 study published in BMC Public Health showed that when employees feel like they’re bonding, their stress levels decrease. And decreased stress means employees are less likely to burn out and more likely to be productive.

3. Improved health

Positive social interactions also lead to physical health benefits, according to a 2008 study published in the Academy of Management Review. A few minutes of mingling with co-workers every day can help lower blood pressure and decrease heart rate. These beneficial physiological changes boost employees’ immune systems, reduce absenteeism and help bring down company’s healthcare costs too. What’s more, employees who are in good health tend to be more productive.

Research also shows that fostering better health has a domino effect that helps the employees’ entire family. When employees feel better, they’re more likely to exhibit behaviour that can have a positive impact on their families—such as cooking healthier meals and taking part in physical activities. When entire families are healthy, employees are less likely to use their sick leave.

Compassion and social support has been linked to faster recovery from illness. Sending flowers to a co-worker after she’s had a baby or providing meals to a manager who has had surgery are just a few simple gestures that can help people feel better faster. Managers who want to foster compassion can create opportunities for employees to help one another —such as allowing workers to donate sick leave to people with long-term illnesses.

Contagious and reciprocal

While many business leaders fear that showing compassion will cause employees to take advantage of their graciousness, research shows the opposite is true. When leaders behave in a compassionate and cooperative manner, employees are more likely to reciprocate.

A 2010 study published in PNAS found that cooperative behaviour cascades in human networks. In a series of studies, participants repeatedly showed a desire to pay-it-forward. Each person who was treated kindly, wanted to extend generosity toward others.

People feel good about themselves when they’re treated with compassion. As a result, they tend to want to extend those positive feelings to others. Office productivity is much more likely to soar when co-workers are cooperating, rather than competing with one another’s efforts.

Creating a culture of compassion

Creating a culture of compassion involves reducing hardships and taking steps to build relationships. Here are a few examples of ways leaders can foster compassion:

  • Connect new hires with relationally skilled employees. Ensure that newcomers are allied with people who can answer questions and assist them in getting their needs met.
  • Encourage socialisation. Rather than chastise employees for chatting in the hallways or at the coffee vending machine, provide opportunities for them to connect with one another. Allowing time for employees to connect with one another on a human level can increase their workplace satisfaction.
  • Incorporate support into the workplace. Rather than telling employees to ‘toughen up’ when they express difficulties doing their work, invite suggestions that could improve the environment.

Small steps, big difference

The good news: any organisation can introduce compassion to the workplace. A few small steps at a time can begin to make a big difference—cheerful greetings, conversations about family members, or simply delivering an employee a much needed cup of coffee can set the tone for a compassionate environment. Showing people you care, and creating policies that foster compassion, are simple but effective ways to improve business.

This was first published in the May 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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