Companies addressing workplace stress with compassion



We’ve all seen it in the news. Major corporations – Aetna, Google and Nike, to name a few – have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon. On first glance, this seems like a good thing. Mindfulness is good for the heart, in more ways than one. People who practice mindfulness report feeling lower levels of stress and an increased ability to think clearly.


On the other hand, Harvard Business Review says it’s emotional intelligence, not mindfulness, that’s at the core of this enhanced well-being. Whether it’s mindfulness or emotional intelligence or something else, we’re missing the boat here.


Despite the fact that mindfulness is based in Buddhism, which is deeply rooted in compassion, the workplace – and the mindfulness movement – tends to ignore the critical element of compassion. Yes, there is a renewed focus on mission-based businesses that give back to communities. Yet many organizations fall short in creating a safe, compassionate space for their own employees while asking for outwardly compassionate giving and participation.


High-stress organizations are starting to recognize this need. Many hospitals have adopted a Code Lavender response team to address emotional crises, not just with patients and their family members, but for doctors, nurses and other staff in need of healing prayer and support.


Some organizations employ a chaplain, as an individual who reaches out and connects with employees, providing a safe space to talk about an event and its impact on doing one’s work. An in-house chaplain will check in with employees when there has been a loss in the workplace or a significant change of direction, for example.


These compassionate practices, designed specifically as emotional support, help employees cope with stress, function more effectively and avoid job burnout.


Your organization might not rise to the level of needing a rapid response team or a full-time chaplain, but there are things every organization can do to create a more caring, compassionate workplace.


Organizing a staff retreat, even for a half-day, is a good place to start. Retreats that are built not around “How do we meet our quota?” but instead, “Where do we come from? How do we go forward together? What is our plan of action?” are more likely to generate results that reward both individuals and the organization. These intentional retreats, held on a regular schedule, can infuse into the organization a culture in which employees can set aside fears of being judged when communicating their beliefs.


When employees feel safe to share not only ideas for the business, but also the values and belief systems from whence these ideas emerge, only then can they feel truly seen and heard for who they are as a whole person. And we all benefit from a greater understanding of one another.