Self-Compassion and Coping in the Workplace

North American workers are under a great deal of stress. ComPsych, the largest provider of Employment Assistance Programs (EAP), recently conducted the StressPulse survey. The survey found that 65% of North American employees reported high levels of stress; 35 percent cited consistent, but manageable stress; and only 5% indicated low levels of stress. The survey also addressed causes of stress at work, with 41% of respondents citing workload; 32% reporting people issues; and 18 percent identifying work-life balance as major stressors. How can overtaxed workers contend with what seems to be ever-increasing stress? Research suggests that the mindset of “self-compassion” can be useful toward managing both personal and job-related stress, and improving overall well-being.

What is self-compassion?

Simply put, self-compassion is being gentle with oneself. Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading scholar on this topic, suggests that self-compassion is an alternative to self-esteem (dependence on others opinions). What does this mean? She states, “Our sense of self-worth bounces around like a ping-pong ball, rising and falling in lock-step with our latest success or failure.” Self-compassion offers a more stable assessment of self in a variety of contexts.

Another expert, Dr. Cara Gardenswartz, outlines three key components of self-compassion. The first involves being kind and understanding toward oneself when we suffer or fall short. This stands in contrast to engaging in negative thinking about oneself when we face difficult situations. The second component asks us to recognize a common humanity in our suffering instead of feeling as if such experiences only happen to “me.” Finally, self-compassion requires mindfulness. That is, being present in the moment and not worrying or being judgmental about the past or future.

What are the benefits of self-compassion?

Research suggests that there are mental and physical benefits to practicing self-compassion. For example, a recent Harvard Medical School blog article reports that self-compassionate persons have relatively less anxiety and depression. Michael Higgins—of the Forbes Technology Council—suggests that self-compassion fosters empathy. For example, thinking of the advice or consideration we give friends or co-workers facing similar situations helps us gain perspectives on our own challenges. Also, self-compassion promotes resilience, which the American Psychological Association defines as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences.” In addition, self-compassionate individuals may be happier and develop healthier habits like improved diets and more consistent exercise.

How does Self-Compassion Help in the Workplace?

Generally, self-compassion promotes positive coping skills in challenging work environments. It fosters resilience, thereby reducing burnout and stress. Self-compassion can also bring greater empathy, helping decrease conflict in the workplace. Working relationships and leadership skills improve as a result of increased empathy as well as compassion toward self and others.

How to Practice Self-compassion at Work?

Scholar Leah Weiss, offers three suggestions for bringing self-compassion to bear in the workplace. First, find physical soothing techniques like taking walks and listening to music to “anchor yourself in the present.” The main point is to treat yourself with kindness instead of self-judgement when dealing with stressors in the workplace. Second, treat yourself as you would a friend dealing with your workplace pressures. Direct the compassion you would afford a friend to yourself. Third, ask for help. Seeking support and advice from co-workers is a compassionate act toward self that can reduce stress. At times, it may just be too much to meet certain demands without assistance. For example, perhaps gaining insight from a co-worker into a stifling or negative work situation will provide the needed motivation to take a new approach.


 Final Thoughts

Self-compassion is not a “cop-out” or “free pass” for life’s inevitable disappointments or setbacks. Rather, it is a way to counter the self-critical tendencies that often keep one stuck and stressed. Self-compassion promotes resilience and encourages individuals to be mindful and focus on things within their control (i.e. boundaries, how they handle problems)—both of which reduce stress.

Our expert career coaches at The Write Touch help individuals address a range of workplace and career decision-making challenges. Let us help you write your own success story!

Written By : Michelle Bragg – Writer at The Write Touch LLC


Resilience. American Psychological Association.
ComPsych StressPulse Survey. (2022, April). American Institute of Stress.
Gardenswartz, Cara. (2022, May 30). Self-Compassion: A Therapy Technique for Negative Thoughts: Therapeutic and specific techniques for practicing self-compassion. Psychology Today
Higgins, Michael. (2021, Apr 27). Forbes Technology Council. Self-Compassion At Work: Does It Lead To Success?
Jade-Isis Lefebvre, Francesco Montani, and François Courcy. (2020). Self-Compassion and Resilience at Work: A Practice-Oriented Review. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 22(4), 437–452.
Neff, Kristin. (2011). Self-Compassion.
Weiss, Leah. (2018, March 15). How to Bring Self-Compassion to Work with You.
The Power of Self-Compassion. (2022, Feb 2). Harvard Health.