Love at Work? Don’t Freak Out – Here Are 3 Ways to Get It Right

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Love at work. If you’re in HR and reading that statement, likely you shuddered, even just a little.

Usually, “love at work” means some kind of relationship gone wrong, necessitating a new policy about relationships in the workplace, etc.

But new research out of Wharton (and reported in Knowledge@Wharton) shows, rather, we should be encouraging love at work, particularly a form of love called “companionate love.”

The power of “companionate love”

Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade defines “companionate love” as “when colleagues who are together, day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues. They are careful of each other’s feelings. They show compassion when things don’t go well. And they also show affection and caring.”

Barsade and co-author Olivia O’Neill, assistant professor of management at George Mason University, conducted a study on the effects of companionate love at work in what is often a tough work environment – long-term health care.

Goals of the study were to see how “companionate love” impacted employees as well as patients and the patients’ family members. The findings showed a culture of companionate love (quoting):

  • Reduced employees’ withdrawal from work … Units with higher levels of companionate love had lower levels of absenteeism and employee burnout.
  • Led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and employee satisfaction.
  • Rippled out from staff to influence patients and their families … [Patients] would be in a better mood if the culture among the staff was more loving.

What this means for our workplaces

All that is well and good in a company in which one would hope the employees are more geared for compassion and caring. But what about other industries?

The researchers asked the same question, performing a second study involving 3,201 employees in seven different industries (including real estate, finance and public utilities). The findings remained very similar, showing: “A culture of companionate love positively correlated with job satisfaction, commitment to the company and accountability for performance.”

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What does this mean for us in our workplaces? Ask yourself:

  • What can I (as a manager, leader or HR professional) do to promote a culture of companionate love among my team members or those over whom I have direct influence?
  • What can I (as an individual) do to show companionate love to others, even if similar behaviors are not initially returned?

3 ideas to help get you going

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Proactively seek ways you can encourage, support and recognize others for work well done. Where can you do a better job in looking up from your own hectic work schedule to notice the efforts of those around you and thank them for it?
  2. Offer small acts of service to others. If you’re going to the local café for a cup of coffee, offer to pick one up for a busy team member. (This is especially powerful if you are the person in power in the relationship.)
  3. Care about the other person’s life outside of work and beyond how it may impact their work effort. Make a habit of asking others about weekend plans, child sporting successes, or generally how their family members are doing.

What other ways can we show companionate love our colleagues? Has anyone shown companionate love to you? If so, how did it affect you?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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