Stanford center highlights the benefits of compassionate workplaces

The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford brought together leaders in business and academia to talk about the role of compassion in business.

L.A. Cicero James Doty and Scotty McLennan.

James Doty, left, founder and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life at Stanford, chat during a break at the Compassion and Business Conference sponsored by CCARE.

The latest research suggests that a more compassionate workplace, where helpfulness and forgiveness are part of the business model, is a more productive, efficient and happy place to work.

In businesses where compassion is emphasized, employees are less stressed and more satisfied with their jobs, and turnover is lower, researchers say.

Compassionate organizations also have more employee loyalty and engagement, according to researchers.

"Compassion, fundamentally, defines our humanity," said James Doty, the founder and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford.

Doty made his remarks at the center's recent Compassion and Business Conference, where researchers and business leaders presented their findings and highlighted best practices related to compassion, helping and social entrepreneurship.

Speakers included professors from Stanford and elsewhere who discussed their findings on topics including forgiveness, stress and self-compassion. Executives from Google, Seagate and other firms used anecdotes to describe how their businesses have benefited from a more compassionate model.

"The most forgotten fact in business is that we are all human," said Chip Conley, the chief executive of Joie de Vivre Hotels and a graduate of Stanford.

Scott Kriens, chairman of Juniper Networks and founder of the 1440 Foundation, said there is no conflict between being compassionate and being profitable, a sentiment echoed by researchers who cited study after study showing the power of a kinder workplace to have transformative effects on output.

Jamil Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford, said people naturally want to be helpful.

"Humans are nice. We're nice even to people who are not from our group and who can't be nice back," he said.

Being pro-social, or helpful, he said, stimulates the reward center in the brain.

Researchers said compassion involves an authentic desire to help and involves an emotional response.

When we treat ourselves and others compassionately, researchers said, we have more concern for others and more ability to forgive. There is also less fear of failure and greater resilience, which are helpful in a work environment.

Kim Cameron, a professor in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, said compassion is not always about being positive, however. He said compassion can be displayed through criticism.

"You can't always compliment your children," he noted.

Emma Seppala, the associate director of CCARE, said it 's important to present strong data that backs up the notion that a more compassionate workplace can still be profitable and effective.

She writes further about the science of compassion for the latest issue of The Observer, published by the Association for Psychological Science.

The conference, Seppala said, aimed to promote awareness of the field.

Added Doty, "For businesses, you really need this to be data-driven. And the data are there that show the benefits of compassion on the bottom line. It's better for your health and the health of your workplace."