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Self-Compassion and Work-Life Balance

8/29/2018-

by Elaina Loveland

Affordable and Teachable Resource May Benefit Workers and Employers

It seems that the term “mindfulness” is all the rage now for both personal fulfillment and for professionals in the business world. The concept of mindfulness is just one component of the more comprehensive concept of “self-compassion.”

Jessica M. Nicklin, PhD, associate professor of psychology and director for the online master’s program in organizational psychology at the University of Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut, set out to study self-compassion and how it influences work–life balance in the study, “Positive Work–Life Outcomes: Leveraging Self-Compassion and Balance.” She coauthored the study with Christopher P. Cerasoli, PhD, senior talent analytics consultant at the UnitedHealth Group, Inc., based in West, Hartford, Connecticut, and adjunct professor at the University of Hartford and former University of Hartford student Kevin Seguin, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in May 2018.

The study examined self-compassion as a function of work and personal-life balance. Working professionals—135 across various industries—were recruited to participate in an online survey in spring 2017. After analyzing the completed surveys, the study was completed in early fall 2017, and the paper was presented the at Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference, Chicago, Illinois, in April 2018.

Not surprising to the authors, findings of the study indicated that that self-compassion is associated with increases in work–life balance, life satisfaction, job satisfaction, and reductions in burnout at work and home.

What exactly is self-compassion?

“Self-compassion includes mindfulness, but it's a little bit different how it's characterized. Self-compassion is comprised of three pieces,” explains Nicklin. “The first is self-kindness, being kind to yourself, not super critical.” Another part is recognizing that your experiences are similar to other people, so you're not alone.

The mindfulness component emphasizes being “aware of your feelings but not overly ruminating or obsessing over them,” Nicklin says, concluding, “There is mindfulness in there, but there's more of an emphasis on, I would say, self-kindness and compassion to yourself that extends beyond just being in the present moment.”

Survey participants were asked to rate their feelings about the following statements on a 5-point rating scale that ranges from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

  • I am able to balance the demands of my work and the demands of my family.                                                                               
  • I am satisfied with the balance I have achieved between my work life and my family life.                                                           
  • Overall, I believe that my work and family lives are out of balance.                                                                                  
  • I balance my work and family responsibilities so that one does not upset the other.                                                                      
  • I experience a high level of work–family balance.

Findings provide promising evidence that self-compassion (a teachable and affordable resource) may be leveraged to benefit individuals, and ultimately their businesses. Reports of high workplace stress and burnout call for exploration of intrapersonal coping techniques to balance juggling work and personal life demands.

A major advantage of identifying self-compassion as a tool for the workplace is that it is teachable and low cost.

Nicklin says there needs to be education and general awareness of the power of this resource. For business purposes, that education could come from a supervisor or from human resources.

Nicklin credits the creator of the self-compassion model, Kristin Neff, associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, with good tips on how people can practice self-compassion.

Nicklin encourages taking self-compassion breaks throughout the day, “literally taking a minute, kind of like the mindful minute, and thinking about what has happened today, not being too hard on yourself, kind of working through that.”

Some examples of how people, including employees, can practice self-compassion include exercises like guided meditations and journal writing.

Nicklin cites an exercise by Neff that many people may find especially effective.

Ask yourself, “How would you treat a friend?” For example, something that might have happened to you, so if we're talking work–life balance, then we're thinking of missing a deadline or forgetting to pick up your kid from soccer or something like that and then working through that scenario of saying, “Well, what would you tell a friend in this case?”

The results are promising that self-compassion may be an effective resource for helping us navigate multirole memberships, according to Nicklin.

“If we can be kind and compassionate to ourselves we are more forgiving of the challenges and ‘failures’ faced when trying to balance work and family. This will ultimately result in less burnout and stress,” explains Nicklin.

Nicklin acknowledges that results are correlational in nature, but it is not certain if they can be generalized to other samples. Another question is if self-compassion causes work–life balance, or perhaps, work–life balance causes self-compassion. She says more research needs to be done with larger samples sizes to draw firm conclusions.

Nicklin is currently in the data collection phase of a new intervention study with Kristen Shockley, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, in which they are manipulating self-compassion prompts throughout the day and examining if this has an influence on work–life balance.

For more information, contact Jessica Nicklin at nicklin@hartford.edu.