Bringing the Benefits of Self-Compassion into the Workplace: MSC@Work

The modern workplace is challenging. While it can be a place where we can realize our potential as a human being, quite often it’s also a demanding place for which we need to build our (inner) strengths. Burgeoning research shows that self-compassion (think: inner compassion) is strongly associated with emotional well-being, coping with life’s challenges, lower levels of stress and anxiety, healthy habits such as diet and exercise, and more satisfying, compassionate relationships. Self-compassion is a source of self-worth that’s independent of social approval, which enables us to bounce back from difficulty and pursue our goals with energy and enthusiasm. And it’s becoming increasingly evident that compassion is good for workplace productivity and satisfaction.

What is MSC@Work?

MSC@Work is an adaptation of the empirically supported 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) training. It was designed to support those who struggle with the ongoing demands and challenges of the workplace. Through MSC@Work, each participant learns the core principles and practices of inner compassion by experiencing it directly. Then, they gain the ability to evoke this powerful resource on the job, especially in communicating and relating with co-workers while staying true to their core values.

Program activities include discussion topics, exercises, meditations, and small-group interaction. 

The main session topics of MSC@Work are:

  • Building Strengths at Work with Mindful Self-Compassion
  • Being Mindful at Work
  • Befriending Ourselves
  • Discovering Your Compassionate Voice
  • Values-Based Working
  • Meeting Difficult Situations at Working: Building Emotional Agility
  • Healthy Relations at Work: Enhancing Empathy and Inner Resilience
  • Embracing Work as Your Life

MSC@Work is an opportunity to explore how we typically respond when difficulties arise in our lives and to learn tools for becoming a strong and supportive companion to ourselves, much as we might do for others. It is not necessary for participants to have a formal meditation practice to benefit from self-compassion. 

Pilot MSC@Work Intensive: 

January 12 – 17, 2020
1440 Multiversity
Scotts Valley, CA, USA

with Wibo Koole
and Chris Germer


MSC@Work will also be offered in the Netherlands in November-December and at Harvard Library in Boston during Spring 2020.


MSC@Work is also based on my book, Mindful Leadership for Effective Teams and Organizations (Warden Press, 2013)1. An excerpt from this book and the exercises therein are especially being used in sessions 6-8. Also read our recent article on the state of the art of mindfulness and compassion in organizations: “Running too far ahead? Towards a broader understanding of mindfulness in organizations2.”

Understanding the work context

When designing MSC@Work, we needed to understand they types of pressure and job demands that can create suffering. An example of this is the way employees criticize themselves because they cannot fulfill their own and others’ expectations in executing work tasks. Partly this might stem from job demands that they cannot influence but which they take as a (too) personal responsibility. To understand why people struggle at work, we will use the Job Demands – Resources Model as developed in organizational psychology, below.

The Job Demands and Resources Model is one of the most clear models/theories from organizational and labor psychology to understand work pressures and work engagement and the various factors — both individual and collective — that influence those.

“Job crafting” (upper button in the middle) consists of known practices that can help strengthen job and personal resources. Examples of these are the use of personal strength and mindfulness training. An in our view, MSC training is just another practice to be added to strengthen your personal and job resources that you can bring into work.

Job demands, explain Bakker and Demerouti in their recent overview article on the JD-R model3, are the aspects of work that cost energy, such as workload, complex tasks, and conflict. Job resources are the aspects that help employees to deal with job demands and to achieve their goals. You can think of performance feedback, social support and skill variety that are motivating and satisfy employees’ basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Job demands may impair employee health, and job resources can initiate a motivational process, providing meaning and contributing positively to work engagement. Job resources can buffer the impact of job demands on negative strain.

Relating the work context to self-compassion

As we know, self-compassion has three main components: self-kindness versus self-judgement, common humanity versus isolation, mindfulness versus over-identification4, 5. I think the context of work can have both supportive and worsening influence on the balance of these three components. 

In a harsh, results- and performance-oriented culture at work, self-judgment tends to be accentuated: the question “Have I done my job well and on time?” is put on people’s minds by management and co-workers. And within teams, people can feel isolated if there is not enough shared task responsibility. Also, people can easily over-identify with their task or job demands.

An example: In an organizational culture where unmissable targets and very high performance standards are dominant, the pressure to become self-judgmental will be stronger. A person who has the inclination to set very high personal standards of performance (including being always very friendly and empathic to colleagues) can encounter big difficulties dealing with these if their personal resources and the job resources (including team and management support) do not weigh up against the demands.

We can easily see how self-compassion can serve as an important personal resource in such challenging circumstances: it strengthens the control people have over how they deal with stresses in their work environment and how they motivate themselves on the job. It is our hope that through cultivating the skill of self-compassion, people gain the internal resources they need to thrive on the job. 

If you or someone in your organization could benefit from self-compassion training, we encourage you to explore some of the MSC@Work training options in the green box above. 


1. Koole, Wibo. Mindful Leadership for Effective Teams and Organizations. Amsterdam: Warden Press, 2014.
2. Rupprecht, Silke, Wibo Koole, Michael Chaskalson, Chris Tamdjidi, and Michael West. “Running Too Far Ahead? Towards a Broader Understanding of Mindfulness in Organisations.” Current Opinion in Psychology 28 (2019): 32-36.
3. Bakker, Arnold, and Evangelia Demerouti. “Multiple Levels in Job Demands–Resources Theory: Implications for Employee Well-Being and Performance.” In Handbook of Wellbeing., edited by E. Diener, S. Oishi and L. Tay. Salt Lake City: DEF Publishers, 2018.
4. Neff, Kristin. “Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Towards Oneself.” Self and Identity 2 (2003): 85-102.
5. Neff, K. D., and C. K. Germer. The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. New York: The Guilford Press, 2018.

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