Today it is a bitter cold day in November!! When I left home it was 15 degrees and the weather forecaster informed me that the wind chill would make it feel like 2. As I briskly walked the short distance from my parking garage to my office, I passed a woman wearing a puffy, hooded jacket. She was digging through a city garbage can to collect aluminum cans. After an internal battle with myself (Should I give her cash? Pay for a room? Buy her food?) I hurried by and into the shelter of a warm office building to begin the demands of the day.
A few hours later, determined to avoid going back outside, I bought a sandwich at the coffee shop downstairs. Ironically, while I waiting for it to heat, I was approached by a middle-aged man, David, in the shop who invited me to write about my personal view of compassion. Apparently, David is on a national circuit armed with a notebook and pen and is recording responses which he will later compile and produce in some readable form. I began to write. “Compassion is coming from a place of love without judgment, with the understanding that we are all making our very personal journeys together.”
Back in my office, enjoying my sandwich, I Googled definitions of compassion and learned that compassion literally means “to suffer together”. On any given day many employees working at a common place could relate to this definition and we can feel some comfort that we are not suffering alone. However, upon further digging I come across a definition that compassion is a “feeling that arises when you are confronted with another person suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering”. The lady collecting aluminum cans and I suffered the cold together in varying degrees. However, even though I experienced empathy I did not take the next step to relieve her suffering. Instead I rationalized that we have many homeless shelters in our community, that she would probably sell the cans and use the money to buy alcohol, I might embarrass her if I drew attention to her, etc.
Compassion in the Workplace
Is it possible that we do this in companies too? Is that what happens when a manager knows that his employees are exhausted from too much overtime but doesn’t go to bat for them to hire additional people? Is that what happens when an employer rationalizes that his $10 an hour employees don’t care about retirement because they don’t participate in the company’s 401K plan? Could that be what an employee experiences when he/she lets their co-worker do the bulk of the work? It appears that empathy becomes compassion when action is taken to relieve suffering.
I have witnessed compassion in the workplace when an employer flexes the schedule for an employee caring for a sick child; when an employee exchanges work hours to enable a co-worker to attend a school performance; when a manager takes the time to listen and consider suggestions of an associate; when a millennium helps a baby boomer on computer; when an associate offers a word or note of encouragement after a tough day; and numerous other examples. Compassion makes such a daily difference for all of us.
During this Thanksgiving month I am grateful to all who have shown me compassion on my journey.
Linda serves as a Principal in MCM’s HR Consulting practice, and has experience working with various-sized companies throughout a variety of industries. Linda’s experience in organizational development, training, executive coaching and hiring assistance spans over 25 years. Previously, Linda was the President and Owner of Personnel Profiling, Inc., an HR consulting company that offered a suite of employment assessments and services to help companies gain a competitive advantage by hiring, retaining and developing great talent. Linda’s formal education includes a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Louisville with a concentration in counseling psychology. Linda and members of her team will be ongoing contributors to the Academy Blog.
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