TLT_So you say that you can’t go on / Love Work left you cryin’/ And you say all your hope is gone/And what’s the use in tryin’/What you need is to have some faith/Shake off those sad blues/Get yourself a new view (Time,Love and Tenderness; Michael Bolton)

I took some liberties with Bolton’s lyrics and plugged work instead of love in there, but it would seem he knew much more about employee engagement, that one would have given him credit for.

Sigal Barsade, a professor at Wharton, believes that “compassionate love” at the workplace is key factor to boosting employee morale, teamwork and customer satisfaction.

So what exactly is compassionate love you ask? According to professor Barsade, it is 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 — and that can be about bringing somebody a cup of coffee when you go get your own, or just listening when a co-worker needs to talk.”

The first data collection that Barsade and her co-author Olivia O’Neill did was through a 16 month longitudinal study at a long-term health care facility covering 185 employees, 108 patients and 42 of the patient’s family members. The aim of the study was to, measure the effect of compassionate love on:

  • the emotional and behavioural outcomes of employees
  • the health of the patients
  • the satisfaction of the family members.

A very significant finding was that a culture of compassion reduces employees’ withdrawal from work. To further check if the findings held good in other industries, they performed another study – this one involving over 3000 employees in seven different industries. The results again showed a positive correlation of compassionate love with job satisfaction, commitment to the company and accountability for performance.

So what are the potential benefits from creating a culture that supports ‘compassionate love’?

(1)  Decreased Absenteeism (and Presenteeism):  When executives and management focus on creating a culture where employees are encouraged to listen to their co-workers and show empathy to problems the other person is facing (at work or maybe an illness in the family which is in turn affecting work performance) they create a workplace, which employees look forward to. When employees feel more comfortable and appreciated, they tend to give their best to the task on hand.

(2)  Decreased Stress levels: An additional study by O’Neill and Nancy Rothbard of Wharton involved fire-fighters. It turns out that the high stress of their job results in higher levels of work-family conflict and the study determined that compassionate love helps to buffer the effect of  job stress on other outcomes.

(3)   Increased Customer Satisfaction: The last thing a customer wants to hear is “I have passed this on to XYZ team, they will look into it” – and this is typically the response that a stressed out employee who couldn’t care less about what happens to the customer or his employer, would give. A vast majority of customer problems require coordination between employees to solve quickly and effectively. In a culture buttressed by compassionate love that coordination will happen easier than it would in a stressful, competitive or angry one.

The research does raise some points for management to think about. As Barsade puts it

“Management can do something about this. They should be thinking about the emotional culture. It starts with how they are treating their own employees when they see them. Are they showing these kinds of emotions? And it informs what kind of policies they put into place. This is something that can definitely be very purposeful — not just something that rises organically.”

References and Acknowledgements:

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(a) Why Fostering a Culture of Compassion in the Workplace Matters, Knowledge@Wharton

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