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Infusing, sustaining, and replenishing compassion in health care organizations through compassion practices

McClelland, Laura E.; Vogus, Timothy J.

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0000000000000240
Features: PDF Only

Background Human suffering is prevalent and costly in health care organizations. Recent research links the use of compassion practices with improved patient experience and employee well-being, but little is known about how these practices create and sustain compassion to address workplace suffering and enhance care quality.

Purpose This study examines the dynamics of compassion practices, specifically how compassion practices create and sustain compassion in caregiving work.

Methodology We conducted a qualitative field study at two acute care hospitals utilizing three forms of data collection: semistructured interviews, nonparticipant observation, and archival data. Data were analyzed utilizing thematic coding.

Results Both organizations attempted to foster workplace compassion through their hiring, socialization, employee support, and rewards practices.

Conclusion Organizations enable compassion through common organizational practices that perform three functions: (a) infusing the organization with new members and resources to enact compassion, (b) sustaining compassion by reinforcing its appropriateness in the workplace, and (c) replenishing compassion resources by improving and restoring employee well-being and ability to provide high-quality compassionate care.

Practice Implications This study provides managers with a detailed guide for how health care organizations use compassion practices as a managerial tool to address two key challenges: (a) high rates of employee ill-being due to the demanding nature of the work and (b) providing high-quality compassionate care.

Laura E. McClelland, PhD, is Assistant Professor, Department of Health Administration, School of Allied Health Professions, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. E-mail:

Timothy J. Vogus, PhD, is Brownlee O. Currey, Jr. Professor of Management, Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, Nashville, Tennessee.

This study was funded by Emory University’s Goizueta Business School and the Laney Graduate School.

The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationship with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s web site (

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