An empirical study of the relationship between organisational compassion, wellbeing and suffering among academics at a UK university

Hamza, Nermin (2021) An empirical study of the relationship between organisational compassion, wellbeing and suffering among academics at a UK university. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Compassion at work has been described as going hand-in-hand with suffering while Boyatzis et al. (2013) proposed an expanded view of compassion that addresses both suffering and wellbeing. However, these conceptual views of compassion have not been tested empirically. Compassion in organisational contexts is facilitated by an array of factors yet the current conceptualization of organizational compassion does not view organisational factors as significant as human actors (Simpson et al., 2015), resulting in limited empirical evidence on organizational factors (McClelland & Vogus, 2019). This study aims to provide an empirical test of the expanded conceptual definition of compassion bringing together compassion, wellbeing and suffering to examine their associations at a UK university. Despite over a decade of research on compassion at work, there is a dearth of research on compassion within the context of educational settings which makes this study particularly timely.

The first contribution of the thesis comes from the literature review. The literature on compassion spans a range of disciplines, from theology to medical science, and so a degree of variation in how the concept is defined and applied is to be expected. However, the review revealed the concept is loosely defined and applied not only between disciplines but within disciplines. There appears to be an implicit assumption we all know what is meant by compassion (and suffering), which masks important differences in conceptualisation and study of compassion.

The findings indicate that although compassionate experiences among academics were moderate, their perceptions of working in a compassionate organization with compassionate organizational factors were relatively low. Participants reported moderate hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing, yet the majority report suffering, psychologically and existentially. As expected, compassion at work was positively related to compassionate factors, positive affect, and eudaimonic wellbeing and negatively associated with psychological and existential symptoms. Unlike previous studies focused on identifying the effect of overall compassion at work, this study highlights that different sources of compassion display variable associations.

Surprisingly, although compassion was based on the concept of suffering, the study did not find a relationship between compassion and suffering. This highlights the subjectivity and individuality of suffering, with the findings showing significant differences between scores of symptoms and suffering. In addition to the subjectivity of suffering, the findings show it is possible to distinguish between existential and psychological suffering. Not only could compassion be found in the absence of suffering, compassion was more frequently reported when existential suffering was absent. The finding that compassion exists in absence of suffering challenges the traditional view of compassion and provides the first empirical evidence for the Boyatzis et al. (2013) definition of compassion. This study provides empirical support for the hypothesised relationship between compassionate factors and compassion at work. It also addresses the lack of scales that assess compassionate factors, proposing and testing a compassionate factors scale which displayed very good reliability. As such, compassion should be normalized and integrated in organisational routines and policies and should be seen as an ongoing process, rather than a response to crisis.

This study underscores the high prevalence of both psychological and existential suffering among academics and the need for further research that explores suffering of employees in other work contexts. The study proposes a model of psychological and existential suffering at work that encompasses subjectivity and distinguishability which needs to be tested and generalized in different occupations and contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Compassion at work, Hedonic wellbeing, Eudaimonic wellbeing, Psychological suffering, Existential suffering
Subjects: N600 Human Resource Management
X900 Others in Education
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Newcastle Business School
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2021 08:06
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2021 08:15

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