Study: Caring Cultures Build Satisfaction Among Workers

What’s love got to do with work? A lot, according to a recent study on employee productivity.

What’s love got to do with work? A lot, according to a recent study on employee productivity.

Here’s a recipe for success: Love thy coworker. Not the mushy, romantic kind of love, though—the companionate kind, affection based on warmth, compassion, and connection that you’d show anyone you truly care about.

When employees work in a companionate atmosphere, they perform better, according to a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Administrative Science Quarterly. The study, “What’s Love Got to Do With It? The Influence of a Culture of Companionate Love in the Long-term Care Setting” [PDF], uses a range of methods to analyze the influence of a caring culture in the workplace.

Employees who work in organizations with companionate “emotional cultures” report higher levels of satisfaction, lower levels of emotional exhaustion, and greater collaboration among colleagues, the survey found.

There are benefits for customers or clients as well. The initial study, which focused on a healthcare setting, found a link to better patient mood, increased satisfaction, and better quality of life, as well as fewer trips to the emergency room, study coauthors Sigal Barsade and Olivia (Mandy) O’Neill wrote in a Harvard Business Review post.

Their study surveyed 185 employees, 108 patients, and 42 patient families at a long-term healthcare facility and hospital. The results of a follow-up study of 3,201 employees in seven different fields ranging from financial services to real estate shows that the initial findings translate across industries, the authors noted.

Care Package

Some companies make maintaining this kind of emotional culture look easy. Take Zappo’s, for example, which plays up the importance of caring for its employees. “We watch out for each other, care for each other, and go above and beyond for each other,” the company states on its website.

“Within the management domain, the world ‘love’ evokes this concept of this soft, fuzzy thing that you really can’t take seriously at work,” Barsade told the Chicago Tribune. “But companionate love is one of the basic emotions of the human experience. Given how much time we spend at work, it’s actually ignorant to think it wouldn’t be a part of our work lives.”

Bring On The Love

Looking to create something similar at your organization? Start by separating the idea of passionate love from caring, companionate love—and then demonstrate what that means to you.

“Management has to show it too. Not just structurally, but through their own facial expressions, body language, and behavior. People show love at work because they feel it,” Barsade said.

Company policies can emphasize compassion, tenderness, and care—a step away from the traditional “cognitive culture” that focuses heavily on teamwork, results, and innovation, the authors wrote. What does that look like? It can be as simple as a warm smile, an earnest compliment, or a kind note, they said.

On the management end, bosses can enable flexibility and promote good pay. They can be vocal about which emotions are appropriate and civil to display in the workplace and which should stay outside the office.

And as a team, colleagues can view their fellow coworkers as more than just other employees who happen to share a cubicle wall. Offer to help a colleague buried under mounds of work; ask about his or her family; express joy; demonstrate pride. And note the emotions you display in your interactions with others.

“Your mood creates a cultural blueprint for the group,” Barsade and O’Neill wrote.


Emma Beck

By Emma Beck

Emma Beck is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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