What is compassion – also in the sense of co-passion – in the working life? How is it born and strengthened, and how does it affect well-being and through that, also performance and productivity?
WORK PACKAGES: RESEARCH THEMES
1. Compassion interventions at work
How can compassion be supported and strengthened in the working life? How does compassion affect well-being, activity, and achievement? We conduct compassion interventions in organizations for managers, leaders, teams, and communities. Alongside the interventions we conduct intervention research, to clarify the effects of the interventions on, for example, reducing the fear of compassion, increasing servant leadership, strengthening intrinsic motivation, developing emotional skills, strengthening work engagement, and decreasing exhaustion. We conduct three kinds of interventions: emotional skills, character-strength skills, and self-compassion skills. How do we manage our own emotions and those of others? How do we build a positive atmosphere, and how do we face negative emotions and problems constructively? How do we exercise character strengths in practice, and how do we motivate with compassion? Preliminary results point to interventions achieving statistically significant changes in well-being and successful activity. Emotional skills, affective wisdom, and servant leadership appear to strengthen, whereas fear of compassion is reduced.
2. Compassion in Corporate Volunteerism
Corporate volunteerism, in other words, volunteer activity supported by the employer, is a growing phenomenon. In Britain, already some 11 million employees are allowed to use their paid working hours for volunteer work. Corporate volunteerism is slowly becoming more common also in Finland. Corporate volunteerism has been studied particularly from the viewpoint of the benefit it brings to the company. For example, it has been discovered that employees taking part in corporate volunteer work are more committed to their employer, and experience their work as corresponding to their own values. In CoPassion research, corporate volunteerism in Finland is, for the first time, studied from a broader point of view. The study focuses on the interaction between the volunteers and those receiving assistance. How does compassion become visible in the encounters between the helper and the recipient? Do the encounters also affect the work community of the volunteer? One of the discoveries is that issues regarding power and the agency of those receiving assistance have so far not received much attention when the impact of corporate volunteerism has been evaluated.
3. Compassion and innovations
The project’s third work package investigates the birth of new ideas and, in particular, how they spread. What matters hinder or support innovation, and what background role does compassion play in these matters? How can they be influenced in the everyday life of the work place? Innovation utilizes and even requires compassion in many ways. Compassion is the root source of many innovations: the ability to spot a problem people possibly suffer from; a desire to solve this problem; and determined activity to find a solution, a new innovation. In a compassionate atmosphere and organization, it is, on the one hand, natural to suggest one’s own ideas, and the conditions for constructive criticism enabling improving new ideas are good, on the other. Meaningful work and a compassion-influenced relationship with work enable people to work together in order to reach shared goals, fully and innovatively. The factors supporting innovation can be discovered and supported between individuals and the community as well as on the managerial and organizational level. At its most innovative, the work place and organization is markedly both compassionate and co-passionate.
“Co-passion” became a concept used by the CoPassion research group when we noted a phenomenon that does not really have a suitable term within scientific or even everyday language. In previous research, compassion refers to reactions to suffering. The scientific definition becomes questionable when we examine people’s experiences: according to our data, compassion and co-passion intertwine in people’s experiences. At least for Finns, the meaning of compassion is broad, depicting walking alongside another. The root of compassion and co-passion is the same: our shared humanity. Alongside empirical research, our research group also conducts conceptual research. We examine the ways in which transfer of positive emotions and actions from one person to another has been studied before, in the fields of psychology, social psychology, and organizational research. Is the viewpoint of compassion included? We also examine the etymology of compassion and the meanings compassion has received in the history of Western theology and philosophy. The aim is to create a strong theoretical basis for the concept of co-passion.
A broad variety of questions of human life can be researched with qualitative methods. In qualitative research an emphasis is put on the meanings and interpretations that the addressees of the research themselves give to the phenomenon at hand. The data of a qualitative study can be collected through interviews, observation situations or literary sources. In qualitative research the role of researcher’s interpretations and creativity is important. In CoPassion group we use interview data especially when we want to learn about under-researched phenomena, such as the connections of compassion and innovativity or the experiences of the beneficiaries in corporate volunteering programs.
The purpose of quantitative research is to find answers for how different things are connected. The researcher develops different hypotheses about the interrelationships of things, and tests them by gathering information that is then analyzed using statistical methods. For example, we have conducted data collection in which 400 Finns filled a questionnaire asking them about matters related to compassion, well-being, the meaningfulness of their work, and other similar topics. We analyzed their replies using statistical methods that enable us to clarify which factors are often observed together and predict each other. The results show, for instance, that work engagement and enthusiasm for one’s work are strongly related to the meaningfulness of work, which, in turn, is strongly related to the good one’s work brings to other people.
Intervention research design
Intervention research design aims to create a systematic change into conditions, so we can see the effects caused by the change. In CoPassion research, intervention has included, for example, a broad 18-hour training for the management of a company that is also our research partner. In intervention research design, apart from the participating group, a control group that receives no training, or receives it only once the research has been carried out, is also observed. The composition of the participating group and control group is as similar as possible. We gather questionnaire replies from members of both the participating and the control group before and after the intervention, as well as half a year after the intervention. By comparing the results from all measurements of the participating and the control group, we can see which factors the intervention has influenced, and are able to analyze the effects also over a longer time span. In some parts of our research, we also conduct interviews to get more in-depth information on the causes and mechanisms of the effects, whereby the methodological approach of the research resembles the mixed method approach.
Mixed method research
The mixed method approach is a relatively new methodological approach in humanities. The mixed method approach is often chosen when the phenomenon under study is so complex that collecting and analyzing information using various methods is useful. One method is chosen as the central one, and it is complemented with another method. For example, the CoPassion team studies the experience of meaningfulness of work. Meaningfulness is a multifaceted experience that concerns an individual’s identity, community, and cultural environment. Individuals verbalize the experience of meaningfulness in different ways. In research into the meaningfulness of work, we therefore often primarily utilize interview data. We complement the deep understanding created through the interviews using quantitative questionnaire data. In the questionnaires, we utilize tested sets of questions that have been used in numerous previous studies. The added value of questionnaire data is that it enables international comparison of the research, as well as a broad insight into the connections between phenomena, due to a large number of respondents.
Conceptual analysis is a method utilized particularly by systematic theology that can be used in connection with all theological, philosophical, and ethical thinking. Conceptual analysis is utilized in examining texts. The method is used to describe the central concepts of the section or entire text under analysis, as well as the relationships between the concepts. Conceptual analysis aims to tease apart the most important assertions in the text, and evaluate the reasoning given in their support. The method also looks behind the argumentation: what kinds of unspoken background assumptions does the writer have, and how are they reflected in the arguments presented? The CoPassion team utilizes conceptual analysis especially for examining the ethical questions in corporate volunteerism. With conceptual analysis, we examine, for example, the kinds of unspoken concepts of man contained in the documents in which companies evaluate the effectiveness of corporate volunteerism.
Consumers seek deeper values
The expectations consumers have for products and services have changed. Apart from the price, consumer decisions are influenced by whether the company aims to act not only productively, but also responsibly. Thick value is expected of products and services: authenticity, durability, and meaningfulness. Consumers become aware of the irresponsible actions of companies ever faster via the social media, and customer trust is important capital for companies. Research has found that products with ethical certificates, for instance Fair Trade products, do not attract consumers, if the company selling them doesn’t appear trustworthy to the consumers. Compassion in customer encounters, and even the compassionate working culture within a company, increase consumer trust. Compassion is, therefore, a central factor in increasing trust.
Meaningfulness is the new meaning of work
The meaningfulness of work has become ever more central, as the Millenials (those born between 1980-2000) have entered the working life. Members of this generation, which has also been dubbed the “generation of meaningfulness” and the “me generation”, are defined by, for example, self-fulfillment, self-directedness, and questioning authorities. In the relationship with work, this becomes concrete, for instance, in how the meaningfulness of work and employers’ values are central for work commitment. Work itself is a lesser value than before, changing jobs is easier, and combining work and other aspects of life is central. Commitment to work and the employer is increasingly the result of their meaningfulness. In the CoPassion team, we research how taking into account and advancing compassion within the working life increases the experience of meaning, and, for example, commitment to work and to the employer.
From industry to the service business
The growth of the productivity of Finnish work has ceased, and export market shares have shrunk. As a result of global structural changes, the traditional Finnish key export areas, paper, lumber, and electronics industry, have fallen victim to creative destruction. Traditional industry cannot steer the economy in the future, either: growth is created in the service and IT industries. Alongside structural changes of labor, there is also pressure on styles of management to change, so as to correspond to the new ways of working. Knowledge work demands creativity, human relations skills, and a predictive attitude of continuous growth. A manager must be able to take into account emotions and a holistic view of humans, and support employees’ independence.
The lines between sectors are blurred
In the past decades, a separation into the private sector (companies), public sector (the state and local councils), third sector (non-governmental organizations and civic activity), and the so-called fourth sector formed by the family and other close networks has become established in the social sciences. To generalize slightly, the private sector has been thought of as focusing on making a profit, and the more humane and value-based expectations have focused on the activities of the other sectors. In the 2010s, however, the themes of meaningfulness and responsibility have arisen and become so important and intertwined with the expectations and needs of consumers and employees, that success in the market requires taking them into account. Co-operation between sectors is more important than before for solving the vicious problems of our time, for example, climate change. In the CoPassion research group, we examine the effects of meaningfulness and responsibility on company activity, for example, from the viewpoint of compassionate management and corporate volunteer programs.
The meaningfulness of work
In the context of working life, meaningfulness can be defined as the aims or the purpose of work, the value of which an individual defines based on their own views and ideals. Meaningfulness is an individual’s subjective experience of their work having a purpose. Meaninglessness, conversely, is an individual’s experience of a lack of purpose that may lead to alienation from work, lack of commitment, and apathy. Meaningful work is hence composed of individuals attaining their own, purposeful or valuable life. Meaningfulness is also composed of social dimensions, self-value, caring and encouraging relationships, and the content of one’s work. Meaningful work includes an individual’s moral growth, and the possibility of overcoming one’s egotist interests through their work. Meaningful work can offer an individual a feeling of coherence, a feeling of holistic integration.
Finland and the rest of Western Europe is the only area in the world where the majority of people feel that other people can be trusted. In the value system of Finns, good will is a particularly central value – the core motivator of compassion. The same value is very central for people around the world. Finns differ from other Europeans in two aspects of their values: in universalism (value of nature and equality), we are at the forefront in Europe, and also uniformity (following the norms of one’s community) and security are more important for us than for our neighboring countries. Also honesty is particularly central as a value for Finns. Compassion and empathy has a special place in Finnish values.
A good life from reciprocity
The most classic point of view on the good life can be found from Aristotle; he writes about eudaimonia, which refers to human thriving and well-being, not merely happiness. For Aristotle, eudaimonia is the highest form of human good, and alongside thinking, virtues – such as honesty and fairness – are the route toward eudaimonia. Also, the central message about the good life, as stated by many other philosophers and world religions, culminates on the axes of me, you, and us: a good life is a life lived with and for others. A meaningful life is furthering important matters by supporting the good life of others. Also big institutions, such as in Finland, the public sector, civic society, and traditionally also the Evangelic-Lutheran church are enablers of the good life and up-keepers of ideals. A human being thrives in reciprocal human relationships and communities, and compassion is, hence, at the core of the good life. The good life may sound abstract, but it is an issue of everyone’s everyday life – also at the work place. What are my beliefs about humanity and the good life – and how do I further my view?
Positive psychology is a framework that complements traditional research in psychology. Its central assumption states that removing problems does not guarantee well-being. Well-being requires conscious effort: what factors in life are supportive, bring out our best, and lead to thriving? In research, this means, for instance, examining the factors pertaining to positive emotions, happiness, and multi-faceted success in life. Positive psychology has been applied in different walks of life from social sciences to gene technology. In our research, the positive psychology approach is represented by examining the effectiveness of strength-of-character training in the working life. Character strengths are skills that can be learned and that support well-being and success in life. Because we are capable of creativity and self-regulation, we can achieve meaningful goals and learn new things continuously. Character strengths differ from talents: strengths develop, and are valued for their own sake, whereas talents are inborn and valued because of the advantages they bring. The most central criteria of character strengths is that using them is fundamentally positive and teachable, character strengths do not wear out, and using them does not oppress others. Recognizing character strengths and building upon them opens a way towards gaining self-confidence and experiences of success.
Positive organizational scholarship
What makes people, teams, and organizations thrive, in other words, function well and succeed in a sustainable way? Like positive psychology, positive organizational scholarship was born in the early 2000s from the need to move from understanding deficit-sides to examining and furthering human strengths and exceptionally fine organizational activity. The three main areas of research are the thriving of individuals and communities (growth, health, persistence, creativity, innovativeness), the strengths and virtues of individuals and communities (the wisdom, compassion, and strength of a community), and organizational dynamics that explain how thriving and strengths are enabled.
Wisdom is an individual’s characteristic and resource. It is built upon life experiences, and having the opportunities and skills to deal with these experiences. At the same time, wisdom is shared, communal, and interactive. Wisdom is revealed in everyday social situations, also in the work place. How do I act in a way that is right, in a way that is the best possible for all concerned? Wisdom can be thought of as consisting of three dimensions: cognitive wisdom that includes, for instance, problem-solving abilities, reflective wisdom, or the consideration that is a prerequisite for handling life experiences and growing wise, and compassionate wisdom that brings wisdom to the level of words and actions. Without compassion, the ability to put oneself in another’s position, wise deeds cannot be done, and consequently, wisdom cannot be observed. When people can bring themselves to the work place as complete persons, and when everyone has the possibility of making their voices heard, not only cognitive but also the other kinds of wisdom have a greater possibility of thriving.
Workplace spirituality has established its place in the context of international research into the working life and management. Research into spirituality examines the meaningfulness, values, and ethical nature of the working life. The term workplace spirituality refers to a person’s spiritual experience at their work place. Workplace spirituality does not describe religious experiences, but an individual’s desire to seek in their work choices based on their own values, and experiences of meaningfulness. An individual’s identity and background affect everything related to their working life, and one part of a human cannot be cut off from work. People want to live a holistic life where work and the other aspects of life are not at odds with each other. More and more people want to see their work not only as a way of earning money, but also as a call, through which they can express themselves and fulfill their potential, and make the world a better place.
Theories of motivation
What fundamentally motivates humans? For a long time, psychology held behaviorist theories that saw humans largely as creatures reacting to their environment. In the past decades, however, has seen a strengthening of the view of people as active agents directing themselves towards goals they have chosen themselves. It has been suggested that for both human motivation and well-being, three basic psychological needs would be autonomy, competence, and relatedness. But could there also be a fourth, intrinsically motivating basic need? In our research project, we examine the desire to do good things to others as a potential basic need and a central source of well-being.
Church and social studies
In the research community, the CoPassion group’s “home” is the discipline of church and social studies, within the Department of Practical Theology. Church and social studies examine theologically important topics (e.g., priesthood, love) and theological and religious phenomena (e.g., membership of the church, charity) following sociological theories and empirical methodology. The discipline studies religion within the lives of individuals, communities and institutions, and societies, and at their interfaces. In the University of Helsinki, research into church and social studies has, in recent years, expanded beyond traditionally theological topics and contexts, such as examining revivalist movements. Our research into compassion in the work place is one example of the diversification of the field of research of church and social studies.
Social ethics is, apart from a discipline in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki, also an approach into examining societal problems. Unlike other, theory-drive research methods in social sciences, social ethics is empirical research. It mainly studies texts without a pre-chosen theoretical framework. Theoretical concepts are also utilized as tools, but their role is to aid analyses. Social ethics examines both historical and modern-day phenomena. Social ethicists in Helsinki have researched, for example, human rights within the mental health policies, and professional guidance practices from the co-operation in social action viewpoint. The social-ethics approach is present in the CoPassion group’s research into ethical questions regarding corporate volunteering, which makes a connection also between CoPassion and research into business ethics.
Research promoting good life
CoPassion research is based on an ideal of science whereby the task of research is not merely to examine the state of things (descriptive) and focus on explaining phenomena (analytical), but also ponder upon how things ought to be, what furthers the good life. This normative dimension is, in fact, actually always included in science, e.g., in the choice of research topic and approach: what is worth examining, what do we leave unresearched, how theoretical starting points guide examination. In CoPassion, we have chosen as our core themes those that are theoretically and conceptually important and meaningful, but that also support the good life in general and within the working life, through our new results. Through our results and with our collaborators, we even aim for the next step: how do we get there? In other words, not only what is, and how it ought to be, but also how the ideal could be reached. How can compassion and co-passion be better brought into the everyday lives of communities? Our research, therefore, represents applied scientific activity.
Servant leadership is the research-based managerial philosophy that most emphasizes the well-being and actualization of the potential and abilities of its followers. The primary task of a manager is to assist the success of their work community, to help them reach their goals and through that, to thrive. A servant leader is best characterized by respect for and listening to their employees, giving space for employees to use their own consideration and skills, clarity in their expectations of their employees, trust and encouragement to try new things, and authenticity, humility, and the ability to forgive. In the best scenario, employees may also become each other’s servants. Compassion and empathy have a strong position in the culture of servant leadership.