For Workplace Leaders: 11 Tips to Promote Self-Compassion


My teammate, Burrell Poe, and I recently led a 90-minute self-compassion workshop for 20 leaders of a large organization. We asked them prior to the training to share their current challenges, and this is what we heard back:


“I am worried about team burnout.”

“I feel like there are too many fires to put out and that I cannot tackle all of them by myself.”

“It’s super isolating to be at home.”

“People are tired and worried about what the future holds.”

“The team’s not feeling connected.”

“Exhaustion. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Is this all there is?”


Does any of that resonate? Work is already stressful for many of us, and the uncertainties of a global pandemic make work (and life) even more challenging.

This is why it’s more important than ever to create a culture of self-compassion at the workplace. Loads of research indicate that self-compassion supports mental wellness. By fostering an environment where people feel supported and heard, you can lessen burnout and boost employee engagement.  


What Self-Compassion Isn’t…

You might think that self-compassion puts the onus on each individual: “You’re stressed? Take care of yourself!”

That doesn’t sound very compassionate if you ask me.

In fact, an important component of self-compassion is recognizing when you need to reach out for support.

To encourage your team members to practice self-compassion, you should not only model it for them, but you need to welcome their vulnerability. Your teammates ought to be able to ask for support without feeling shame and guilt.

Here’s some guidance on how to do that:


First, create a supportive work environment


1 – Ask Questions

Get to know your team members by asking questions. Find out each person’s joys, sorrows, and passions. Check in by asking how they’re REALLY doing right now, and offer your compassion when they’re struggling.

An example of what to say:

“Hi Betsy! Let’s schedule time for (virtual) lunch or coffee together. The intention of our meeting will be pretty simple – let’s get to know each other better as human beings and not just worker bees!”

When you meet, you can ask questions like:

  • “What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?”
  • “Tell me about your children! What are their personalities like?”
  • “What do you love learning about?”
  • “Is there anything I don’t know about you that you wish I did?”


2 – Set Norms

Creating some basic guidelines can help your team work together more smoothly and effectively. (See this exercise for setting NORMS.)

Examples of norms include:

  • We don’t talk behind each others’ backs on this team.
  • We honor everyone’s time by starting and ending meetings on time.
  • We listen without interrupting.


3 – Put the “You” in Team

Lend a hand when your team members feel overwhelmed. Sometimes they might not ask for support, but you can most likely sense when someone could use extra help.

An example of what to say:

“I’ve got some extra time on my hands and would love to take something off your overflowing plate. Please tell me how I can support you!”


Want to create a more supportive work environment? Find out how Compassion It can help.


4 – Remember Common Humanity

Help team members recognize common humanity, which means they are not alone and that others feel stressed, worried, disappointed, and discouraged. 

An example of what to say:

“Team, you might feel overwhelmed and worried right now. I hope you know that you’re not alone. Even though I don’t always show it, I have a lot of concerns on my mind, too. Stress is universal and makes us normal human beings!”

To promote common humanity, try kicking off meetings with a brief check-in. For example, you could say, “Type in the chat box how you’re feeling on a scale of 1-10.” Chances are, more than a few people will not be feeling like 10’s, and they’ll feel comfort in knowing they are not alone.


Next, encourage teammates to set boundaries


5 – Pause

Invite teammates to set timers that remind them to stop, disconnect from technology, take a deep breath, stand, stretch, and walk around every 30 minutes or hour. You can try this tomato timer to help you, or download a tomato timer app.

An example of what to say:

“I don’t know about you all, but both my back and my brain can’t handle all of this screen time. I’m going to try a tomato timer in order to get up out of my chair every hour and move around. Does anyone want to try it with me?”


6 – Preach Prioritization

If you ask an already overwhelmed teammate to do something, encourage them to prioritize. 

An example of what to say:

“Shammond, I’ve got another project for you. I know your workload is at its max, so let’s set up a brief meeting to figure out what needs to be prioritized and what can wait.”


7 – Be Open to Pushback

Make sure your team members feel comfortable saying, “I can’t add one more thing to my plate. Please help me prioritize so that the essential tasks get done.”

An example of what to say:

“Team, I know sometimes I give you work when your plates are already full. Please feel free to let me know when work is getting in the way of your life, and I’ll do my best to help.”

Of course, workloads and deadlines sometimes require sacrifices. Nonetheless, a compassionate workplace does not frequently ask team members to give up personal time for work.


Finally, show others by modeling it


8 – Be Vulnerable

Model vulnerability by sharing your own struggles and owning your mistakes. You don’t have to dump EVERYTHING you’re going through on your team, but it’s nice for them to see that you’re human.

An example of what to say:

“I’ve got a big presentation for the board tomorrow, and I’m nervous about it. Sometimes they ask questions that catch me off guard. Wish me luck!”

(To learn more about vulnerability and leadership, I recommend Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead.)


9 – Take Time Off

Take personal and sick days when you need them, and encourage others to do the same. If you don’t take days off, you’ll have a tough time convincing others to take a break. Plus, you will almost certainly burn out.

If it seems like an insane amount of work will pile up while you’re on vacation, you and your team members might not want to go. It might not seem worth it. You can avoid that issue if you and your team figure out a system for covering each other.


10 – Quiet the Inner Critic

When you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, learn from it, move on, remember that you’re human, and encourage yourself to do better. 

If you’re an over-achiever, you might think, “My inner critic has helped me get THIS far. Why stop now?”

Research indicates that you will not lose your edge if you offer yourself compassion. You are not letting yourself off the hook. You will continue to thrive, you’ll be resilient, and you’ll ride ups and downs more easily.

Positive self-talk supports your efforts to be a compassionate leader. It’s much easier to offer your support and encouragement to others when you offer yourself the same treatment.


11 – Value Your Values

What matters most to you? Make sure you’re honoring your values and making decisions that align with them. If you model this for your team members, you’re giving them permission to do the same.

You might need to set boundaries around your time so that you’re not constantly working. If you care about connecting with family members and friends, you’ll have to protect that quality time. Perhaps you want time for personal development and learning. Or, if you value your physical health, are you making decisions at work that allow you to get enough rest and exercise?

At work, you may value creativity and innovation but your current project or role doesn’t use that part of your brain. What can you shift in order to be more in alignment with your values?

If work holds you back from what you value, you’ll have a tough time staying engaged; the same holds true for your team members.

By creating a supportive work environment, encouraging team members to set boundaries, and “walking the talk” by modeling these self-compassionate actions, you are setting the stage for success at work and beyond.

Compassion It makes compassion a verb, and our mission is to inspire compassionate actions and attitudes. As a nonprofit and global movement, we provide tangible tools and trainings that help individuals, organizations, and institutions prioritize compassion. Learn more about our workplace trainings here.


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