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Building resiliency at work through self-compassion

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As the world begins its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, several challenges continue to hinder us from returning to a world of normalcy. From new variants to global supply chain interruptions to rising inflation, these disruptions have significantly impacted our work and personal lives.

Now, more than ever, is when being resilient will help us weather the persistent and pervasive pandemic.

New research from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business identifies a practical tool based on self-compassion that can help you build resiliency at work.

Klodiana Lanaj and Remy Jennings

Martin L. Schaffel Professor Klodiana Lanaj and Management Ph.D. student Remy Jennings.

Warrington’s Ph.D. student Remy Jennings and Martin L. Schaffel Professor Klodiana Lanaj, with You Jin (YJ) Kim of City University of Hong Kong, developed an intervention to activate a mindset of work self-compassion in which employees reflect on a time that they have been self-compassionate in the past when facing a hard time at work.

“Work is often stressful, and even without the constant challenges brought on by the pandemic, employees need adaptive strategies to help them function well in their work environment,” said Jennings. “Work self-compassion means choosing to treat oneself with kindness, gentleness and care at work. Our work shows that when employees are self-compassionate at work, they perform and feel better.”

In their study, the researchers asked 128 employees to reflect on a time when they had been self-compassionate during a challenging time at work. Overall, the employees, through completing three daily surveys for 10 days, indicated that on days when they completed the work self-compassion intervention (as compared to days in which they completed a control task), they had more resources and motivation at work, as reflected through higher energy and work self-esteem.

“In turn, feeling efficacious and energetic motivated employees to be more resilient at work, more productive on their work goals, and to experience more meaning in their life,” said Lanaj. “Overall, therefore, reflecting on one’s work experience with self-compassion helped employees to be better employees and to derive more meaning out of their work.”

To build your resiliency through the work self-compassion intervention, the researchers suggest beginning your workday by writing down two to five sentences responding to one of the following prompts, similarly to what they asked study participants to complete. In your reflection, describe the situation, including what happened and how you felt.

  • Recall a time in which you were kind and compassionate to yourself when experiencing suffering at work
  • Recall a time in which you tried to be understanding and patient toward aspects of your personality that created challenges for you at work
  • Recall a time in which you gave yourself the caring and tenderness you needed when going through a very hard time at work
  • Recall a time in which you were tolerant and forgiving of your own flaws and inadequacies that created challenges for you at work
  • Recall a time in which you tried to be loving and accepting toward yourself when feeling emotional pain at work

“Approaching your workday with self-compassion can be a simple yet effective tool for being resilient each day at work,” said Jennings. “With all that the world is experiencing right now, choosing to be self-compassionate could be a helpful strategy to navigate the uncertainty and challenges that we face at work.”

This research is forthcoming in Personnel Psychology.