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How Other- and Self-Compassion Reduce Burnout through Resource Replenishment

The average employee feels burnt out, a multidimensional state of depletion likely to persists without intervention. In this paper, we consider compassion as an agentic action by which employees may replenish depleted resources and thereby recover. We draw on conservation of resources theory to examine the resource-generating power of two distinct expressions of compassion (self- and other-directed) on the three dimensions of burnout (exhaustion, cynicism, inefficacy). Utilizing two complimentary designs – a longitudinal field survey of 130 social service providers and an experiential sampling methodology with 100 business students across 10 days – we find a complex pattern of results indicating that both compassion expressions have the potential to generate salutogenic resources (self-control, belonging, self-esteem) that replenish different dimensions of burnout. Specifically, self-compassion remedies exhaustion and other-compassion remedies cynicism‒ directly or indirectly through resources‒, while the effects of self- and other-compassion on inefficacy vary. Our key takeaway is that compassion can indeed contribute to human sustainability in organizations but only when the type of compassion provided generates resources that fit the idiosyncratic experience of burnout.


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