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Self compassion in the workplace is more than a nice to have

Dr Elaine Beaumont - University of Salford

The workplace and office can be a pressured environment. Tight deadlines to meet, management to please, teams to manage and build, relationships to cultivate, budgets to stick to, targets to hit – in such environments our wellbeing can take a nosedive and leave us feeling the effects of stress – especially if we feel we’ve let something slip.

Self compassion is not something that many of us consider bringing to work. But self-compassion isn’t just nice-to-have in your personal life. It has a central place in business too. Rather than being soft and fluffy, self-compassion has been shown to reduce self-criticism, anxiety, improve mood and  self-esteem, and help people to become more confident, manage setbacks and remain motivated in the face of difficulties.

Employees with high levels of self-compassion are likely to be less stressed and more able to perform their role effectively. They develop skills and resources that are crucial for personal and professional development. It’s something that is linked to our wellbeing, and numerous studies have shown that it’s imperative for success in all areas of life.

We may think that criticising ourselves will help us perform better but actually rather than focusing on self-criticism (our internal bully) we can turn our attention to nurturing self compassion. Research shows that negativity actually paralyses rather than motivates us. Self-compassion helps employees bounce back after setbacks and can help people develop resilience. Rather than be stalled by mistakes or challenges, those with self compassion feel empowered to change direction and be flexible, ultimately improving their performance.

Those who are comfortable hearing feedback, especially negative feedback, without it causing an issue, can strive to change habits and routines to realign with what is best for business. Becoming too fixated with failures just sends us down a negative spiral where self development and growth becomes difficult.

Self compassion isn’t a get out of jail free card. It doesn’t let you off the hook. It requires vulnerability, courage and honesty to take a real look at what you are doing well, where you could develop, and take the right steps to improve. By not judging ourselves as individuals, but by accurately assessing a situation or action, those with higher self compassion do not limit their self worth but make a judgement based on wisdom and inner strength.

A growth mindset is an essential attribute for professional development and business growth. By fostering a culture of self compassion in the workplace, employers are helping their staff but also supporting an environment where motivated people can do great future focused work. When we’re critical of ourselves it’s easy to stagnate, avoid tricky situations, withdraw from others and feel we can’t move forward. But those with higher levels of compassion for self and others will ask themselves ‘what can I do to move forward?’ and take the right steps to do so rather than avoid challenges and question their ability. They will have a willingness to do more and keep trying, seek support if need be and recognise that the difficult thoughts and emotions will pass.

Those with higher levels of  self compassion are also more likely to have empathy for others, recognising that everyone makes mistakes. They will have an understanding that the brain can easily get caught up in rumination and that other people also have to manage life’s difficulties and everyday pressures. This creates an environment for strong working relationships that will improve organisational teamwork and business success. This is especially important for those in leadership roles, where relationship building and leading with authenticity and support is essential. Practicing self compassion for ourselves can also help us notice when other people are treating themselves unfairly. When we notice this we can potentially help support and encourage others by providing a safe base.

As good leaders in the workplace, you can encourage staff to practice self compassion by sharing these tips:

  • Check in with yourself on regular occasions, and ask yourself “How am I feeling?”, “What are my stress levels like?”, “What would be helpful for me right now?”
  • Notice how you are talking to yourself – are you using self-critical language and a harsh tone of voice. You live with yourself 24 hours a day so use a kind voice tone and compassionate self-talk.
  • Take regular time for breaks away from your screen – slow down, rest and refuel
  • Notice how you’re treating yourself, especially when you’ve got something difficult to do, or have experienced a setback or failure – if you’re beating yourself up, or ruminating, see if you can talk to yourself like you would do a good friend
  • Use the self-compassion app’s daily practices as a guide to help you be more compassionate with yourself. Over time, it will become more natural to you.

Mental health has a big impact on how we show up in the workplace. Just like a bullying coach can drain confidence and enthusiasm from an athlete, if we criticise or berate ourselves, we’re less likely to perform at our best at work. Self-compassion is essential to the wellbeing and effectiveness of employees. It’s not something soft or fluffy, but a great tool to have in personal and professional life.

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