Awakening Compassion at Work

Compassion and Service Go Hand and Hand

It's no surprise that culture is the key to driving service, sales, growth, and empowerment in organizations today. Culture can make or break those within the company which in turn impacts client and vendors in the marketplace. We all have our favorite culture needs but have you given any thought to championing for compassion within your organization?

How many companies have you read about that even have compassion as a goal? I still remain stumped and never gave thought to compassion being a key component that organizations are lacking until I read the new book Awakening Compassion at Work by Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton. Below is a guest post from the authors and I would love to hear your thoughts!

If Your Business Competes Through Service, You Need More Compassion at Work
Monica C. Worline & Jane E. Dutton

Try this thought experiment: First, remember the last time you ate at a restaurant with poor service. Second, remember the last time you ate at a restaurant with great service. Which one would you rather return to today?

Many organizations, like those restaurants, depend on delivering high-quality service to build their competitive advantage. But managers and leaders often overlook or undervalue compassion in service encounters as an important aspect of distinctive service quality.

When Sarah’s grandmother died, she spent time cleaning out the house, immersed in memories. Sarah’s children were young and mystified by what was happening. The family stopped at a nearby restaurant for a much-needed bite to eat. Five-year-old Sonia started to cry, missing her great grandmother and the chocolate milk that had been their favorite treat together.

Lindsey’s shift had just started when she took the family’s order. It struck her that the young mother had asked for a dish that hadn’t been on the menu in years. Lindsey brought drinks out and the children were crying. Asking the little girl what was wrong, Lindsey learned of the death of Sonia’s beloved grandmother, who used to make special chocolate milk. After sharing hugs and telling the family how sorry she was for their loss, Lindsey stopped at the manager’s desk. She arranged to get them chocolate milk, and also for the restaurant to take care of their bill. That act of compassion as part of the restaurant’s service made a distinctive impression and won them a loyal customer.

It turns out that wasn’t the end of the story, though. Leaving Lindsey a sizable tip that night, Sarah wrapped the money inside a napkin with a simple note: “Thank you for your kindness and compassion, and the love you showed to complete strangers tonight.” A few months later, Sarah and her family were wrapping up details related to her grandmother’s funeral and they stopped at the same restaurant. Lindsey had just started her shift. She delivered water and menus to her new table, then she stopped in her tracks. Hugging broke out. She welcomed the family by name. She remembered their favorite foods and brought Sonia her chocolate milk.

At the end of the meal, Lindsey showed the inside of her black order pad to Sarah. Taped inside was Sarah’s note from the napkin. It buoyed Lindsey up on every shift, and helped her keep her calm when she encountered difficulty customers. One act of compassion had rebounded, helping bolster both the giver and the receiver.

Research by the Gallup organization shows that genuine expressions of compassion such as this one, when delivered authentically as part of high-quality service, create brand loyalty and forge lasting bonds with customers. These emotional bonds are far stronger aspects of great service than almost anything else organizations can do.

The great news is that research supports the idea that when employees give feelings and actions as gifts to customers, like Lindsey did for Sarah, employees feel better about work as well. Daniel Homan and Lonnie Collins Pratt in their book Radical Hospitality remind us about the power of service as a meaningful aspect of work: “It isn’t just the food that we pass out that nourishes or impoverishes the human heart. … Work is always for the service of others.” Making room for compassion as part of your customer service strategy opens the door for work that is more genuinely meaningful and customers who are more genuinely delighted and loyal.

If you have story of compassion and service quality, we’d love to read about it in the comments.



Monica Worline, PhD, is CEO of EnlivenWork. She is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Executive Director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work.

Jane Dutton, PhD, is the Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology and cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. She has written over 100 articles and published 13 books, including Energize Your Workplace and How to Be a Positive Leader. She is also a founding member of the CompassionLab.

Their new book, Awakening Compassion at Work, available now on Amazon, reveals why opening our eyes to the power of compassion is smart business.