If the phrase “love in the workplace” makes you roll your eyes or reach for a sexual harassment complaint form, consider new research that shows creating a culture of love — not the romantic or sexual kind — is actually a smart and compassionate way to engage employees.
Valentine’s Day is this week, so take a few minutes now to broaden your idea of workplace love.
Sigal Barsade and Olivia (Mandy) O’Neill did their longitudinal research on love in the workplace in a nonprofit long-term healthcare facility and hospital in the Northeast. They also sought data from 3,201 employees in seven different industries, from financial services to real estate.
No matter the industry, the results came back consistent: love really matters when it comes to engaging employees. The study is forthcoming in Administrative Science Quarterly, according to a synopsis the researchers wrote in Harvard Business Review. If you want to dive in for the full dissertation, the 74-page study analysis is posted online.
To fully understand the lessons from the study, it helps to differentiate between the types of love. Barsade and O’Neill talk about “companionate” love, as opposed to the romantic kind. This platonic type of love “is a basic human emotion that has been largely neglected within the domain of organizational behavior,” they write.
There are also different types of workplace culture to consider. “Cognitive culture” addresses intellectual values such as teamwork, innovation and the drive to succeed, while “emotional culture” involves joy, pride and love.
Emotional culture feeds cognitive culture, Barsade and O’Neill found: “Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork. They showed up to work more often. Our research also demonstrated that this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life, satisfaction and fewer trips to the ER.”
In practice, engaging employees with love means showing care to your coworkers and employees in difficult situations, just as you would your friends and family. Barsade and O’Neill use as an example a $1.5 billion company that suddenly lost 40 percent of its orders, yet instead of firing a good portion of the workforce, the CEO asked all employees to take a four-week furlough. “The reaction was extraordinary,” the CEO later said.
“Some team members offered to take double furloughs, stepping up to ‘take the time’ for their co-workers who could not afford the loss of pay. … Our decision to use furloughs to save jobs made our associates proud and profoundly touched by the realization that they worked for a company that truly cared about them. … they embraced the furlough program because it meant saving someone else’s job.”
In other examples from the study of love in the workplace, employees rallied around sick coworkers and a CEO developed a way to systematically look after and care for employees who lost a close family member.
The researchers also stress the importance of emotional contagion — the idea that we can “catch” emotions from each other, in a similar way that colds and the flu get passed around. Facial expressions, body language, vocal tone and touch all contribute to the emotional health of a group.
“Pay attention to the emotions you’re expressing to employees every day. Your mood creates a cultural blueprint for the group,” Barsade and O’Neill write.
What are some ways you or your employees or coworkers have demonstrated love to each other? Is compassion part of your workplace culture?
To learn how to bring compassion and gratitude to your workplace, download our free guide, “Workplace Gratitude” today. Share with colleagues and friends and start spreading the workplace love!
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