Work Stress / Compassion

Children experience toxic stress in unsafe families – Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)- see the ACE pages.  Adults experience toxic stress in unsafe workplaces.  Adults who have experienced ACEs are more vulnerable to adverse workplace stress later.

Both adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress in the workplace create ongoing health problems that cost our society enormous sums in suffering, lost work days, insurance and workers’ compensation/disability costs that can effect families across multiple generations.

 Prevention and treatment are both critical — and possible — using the resources provided on this and other pages of this website.

If you need proof of the health implications of toxic stress in the workplace, watch Killer Stress – A National Geographic Special with Robert Sapolsky …   be sure to watch the entire program for the workplace link.  Stanford  neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky looks at the possibly deadly effects of chronic stress on humans and other primates. “In this revelatory film, discoveries occur in an extraordinary range of places, from baboon troops on the plains of East Africa to the office cubes of government bureaucrats in London to neuroscience labs at the nation’s leading research universities. Groundbreaking research reveals surprising facts about the impact of stress on our bodies: how it can shrink our brains, add fat to our bellies and even unravel our chromosomes. Understanding how stress works can help us figure out ways to combat it and mitigate negative impacts on our health.”   Watch it at  (If this link goes down, copy and paste it.)

Health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress.  -Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine  ( NIOSH = National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is part of the CDC)  and
Emotional Intelligence/EQ (and Moral Intelligence/MQ) has more success than stress reduction: Intelligence Is Overrated: What You Really Need To Succeed – Forbes  and  The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence | Joshua Freedman 

Guarding Minds at Work (GM@W) (Canada) is a free, evidence-based strategy that helps employers protect and promote psychological safety and health in their workplace. 13 organizational factors impact organizational health, the health of individual employees and the financial bottom line:

  1. Psychological Support
  2. Organizational Culture
  3. Clear Leadership & Expectations
  4. Civility & Respect
  5. Psychological Job Fit
  6. Growth & Development
  7. Recognition & Reward
  8. Involvement & Influence
  9. Workload Management
  10. Engagement
  11. Balance
  12. Psychological Protection
  13. Protection of Physical Safety

What happens when psychological support is lacking?   Employee perceptions of a lack of psychological support from their organization can lead to (echoing Robert Sapolsky’s research on hierarchy-based stress resulting from lack of emotional intelligence among the human primates in bureaucracies):

  • increased absenteeism
  • withdrawal behaviours
  • conflict
  • strain – which can lead to fatigue, headaches, burnout and anxiety (increased back            and other pain syndromes)
  • turnover
  • loss of productivity
  • increased costs   (health and liability insurance, workers’ compensation)
  • greater risk of accidents, incidents and injuries

One promising evidenced-based antidote to toxic stress in the organizational culture of the workplace is compassion practice, supported on an institution wide basis, both from the top down, working with executives, and from the bottom up, all of us on the job. Chade-Meng Tan, google engineer turned Human Resource specialist and author of Search Inside Yourself, founded the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, training people in attention and mindfulness practices that “build the core emotional intelligence skills needed for peak performance and effective leadership”. http:/

Meng’s TED talk: Everyday Compassion at , a longer talk with specific practices, Compassionate Leadership for Unusual Business Success:

Meng also supports the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University “Our capacity to feel compassion has ensured the survival and thriving of our species over millennia. For this reason, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University School of Medicine and Institute of Neuro-Innovation and Translational Neurosciences was founded in 2008 with the explicit goal of promoting, supporting, and conducting rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior.” Conversations on Compassion with James Doty, MD & Chade-Meng Tan,   Doty is a neurosurgeon, Standford professor, Founder and Director of CCARE,

CCARe sponsors the Compassion & Technology Conference (Dec. 6, 2013) to support the development of compassion-based technology: technology that helps people learn, practice, improve, and share compassion, empathy, social connectedness, and/or altruism.  The conference focuses on how compassion can be trained using technological education tools, tracked geographically through mapping tools, used to inspire, and implemented as an intervention in communities where it is most needed (e.g., prisons, at-risk schools, trauma populations, and healthcare systems).

Self-Compassion: compassion isn’t only something that we should apply to others. Just as we’d have compassion for a good friend who was going through a hard time or felt inadequate in some way, why not for ourselves? Many people believe that they need to be self-critical to motivate themselves, but in fact they just end up feeling anxious, incompetent and depressed. Dr. Kristin Neff’s research shows that far from encouraging self-indulgence, self-compassion helps us to see ourselves clearly and make needed changes because we care about ourselves and want to reach our full potential.  Dr. Neff is Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin.

Survival of the Kindest: Psychologist Paul Ekman reveals Charles Darwin’s real view of compassion. Darwin wrote that altruism is a vital part of life as is being confirmed by the institutions described above. 

In 1871, eleven years before his death, Charles Darwin published what has been called his “greatest unread book,” The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex”. His little-known discussion of sympathy in this book reveals a facet of Darwin’s thinking that is contrary to the competitive, ruthless, and selfish view of human nature that has been mistakenly attributed to the Darwinian perspective. 

In the fourth chapter, entitled “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals,” Darwin explained the origin of what he called “sympathy” (which today would be termed empathy, altruism, or compassion), describing how humans and other animals come to the aid of others in distress. While he acknowledged that such actions were most likely to occur within the family group, he wrote that the highest moral achievement is concern for the welfare of all living beings, both human and nonhuman.

It should be no surprise, given Charles Darwin’s commitment to the continuity of species, that he claimed that concern for the welfare of others is not a uniquely human characteristic. . .

“In however complex a manner this feeling may have originated, as it is one of high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

Darwin’s thinking about compassion, altruism, and morality certainly reveals a different picture of this great thinker’s concerns than the one portrayed by those who focus on the catchphrase “the survival of the fittest” (in fact a quote from {Herbert} Spencer, not Darwin). Those unacquainted with his writings, and even some scientists, are unaware of Darwin’s commitment to the unity of humanity, his abolitionist convictions, and his intense interest in moral principles and human and animal welfare.