There is a family of emotions that influences how we respond, react, and interact with others. Sometimes referred to generally as ‘social’ emotions, or other-oriented emotions are states such as love and liking, gratitude, envy, hatred, and compassion. These emotions are other-oriented in a sense that they have a strong influence on how we treat others, how we respond to them, and the quality of the relationships we share with others. Compassion is an emotion – distinct from empathy (which psychologists consider more as a process of relating and connecting rather than an emotion per se), and distinct from other related emotions such as love, liking and gratitude. Compassion is an emotion we feel when we witness another individual suffering, and motivates us to alleviate the others’ suffering. Put another way, while compassion may have elements of sympathy and empathy, it is only compassion that actively motivates an intention to help ease another’s burdens and pains . Is compassion, however, relevant for corporations and companies?
Responding to others’ suffering in a compassionate manner brings about a collective good – and we do see this as well in organizations. In 2011, a series of devastating floods hit Brisbane, Australia. Ace Simpson and his colleagues studied how organizations responded to, and treated their employees affected by the floods. More generally, Simpson and his colleagues asked – are capitalistic goals and compassionate ones always at odds with one another? Can organizations really care for their employees when they are under financial and situational challenges? Indeed, they can. Compassionate responses were evident from Simpson and colleagues’ study, based on employees who said that their managers in compassionate responses from their managers were conveyed via empathetic communication. Managers also altered or went around bureaucratic rules to deliver assistance, provided practical and financial support, as well as created a culture of care that went beyond the flood incident.
Social entrepreneurship ventures effectively place compassion at the core of their businesses. These are companies that emphasize the greater societal, or community good by committing to the alleviation of others’ suffering, searching for new pathways to help others, and making decisions that value benefitting others . If you run a business, or any professional service for that matter, think about how you can incorporate these principles into your work. Try asking yourself some questions in creating a culture of compassionate care within your organization.