Love thy colleague and engagement shall improve

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Love may not be a term associated with the workplace but according to new research the more love co-workers feel at work the more engaged they are.

And no we don’t mean heart-racing romantic love but its less intense and less passionate cousin companionate love, which is based on warmth, affection and connection.

Researchers Sigal Barsade, Professor of Management at Wharton School, and Olivia O’Neill, assistant professor at the George Mason University School of Management carried out two studies into the influence of emotional culture on workplace outcomes. From the first study they found that employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork and showed up to work more often. In the follow-up study they found people who worked in a culture in which they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring and compassion for one another­ were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organisation and accountable for their performance.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review of their findings the researchers explained that a culture of companionate love encourages side-by-side collaboration, the expression each day of care and affection between colleagues, safeguarding colleague’s feelings and showing tenderness and compassion when things don’t go well.

While it may sound a bit left-field, Elizabeth Howells, Director of PeopleCentric and Organisational Psychology specialist, told HRM Online that there are numerous engagement surveys that look at companionship in the workplace and they have found that team morale levels is related to the connection colleagues have with each other. Those surveys also have similar findings as the “companionate love” study.

“[Those engagement studies found] if you feel comfortable and you’re supported you’re more likely  to participate in learning activities, you’re more likely turn up to work because it is a place you want to be and you feel supported and you like the people around you and in terms of the productivity because you all do work together its likely to have a positive impact,” Howells explained.

Barsade and O’Neill said managers should look for ways to create and reinforce close workplace relationships among employees and suggested three ways to do so:
  1. Broaden your definition of culture. Instead of focusing on “cognitive culture” — values such as teamwork, results-orientation or innovation — think instead of how you can cultivate the emotional culture by focusing on key emotions like joy or pride.
  2. Pay attention to emotions managers are expressing to employees every day as their mood creates a cultural blueprint for everyone else.
  3. Consider how company policies and practices can foster greater affection, caring, compassion, and tenderness among workers.
It’s also important, according to the researchers, to create a culture of companionate love which will lead to employee satisfaction and productivity is to focus on the small things such as a smile, kind note or sharing a sympathetic ear between co-workers.

Howells agrees it is about building a culture. A group hug every day isn’t necessary but by having leadership in place that show indications that they care and want to have an understanding of people and what’s important to them and over time people will build a trust and respect for each other.

She adds that it is important however, that how that culture is created is appropriate to the workplace – construction workers may not appreciate a policy telling them to love one another.

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