Love in the Workplace

Tina Turner asks us in her memorable song, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ Well, if we are thinking about wellbeing and productivity in the workplace, it apparently has a lot to do with it.

The idea of compassion and empathy in the workplace may sound a bit odd – something that does not sit neatly with the usual associations we have with ‘the office’, where key values revolve around efficiency, value for money and successful achievement of targets.
Often little relationship is acknowledged between soft ideas such as emotional literacy and the effective delivery of services. Yet increasingly it is seen that morale and our inner states bare a direct relationship to factors like productivity and efficiency.

Books like Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman‘ and The Empathy Factor by Marie R. Miyashiro, as well as research by Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neil, stress the relationship between empathy and compassion in social, work and corporate environments and impact on competitive advantage and worker and team morale.

“Increasingly, today’s most successful companies are bringing love, joy, authenticity, empathy, and soulfulness into their businesses; they are delivering emotional, experiential, and social value – not just profits” (Wharton School of Business in their endorsement of the book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose).

More and more our work entails being a part of teams in which the quality of relationships affect the quality of service. Also the growing international character of our working environments and the risk of cross-cultural misunderstanding underline the importance of emotional intelligence as an integral skill. My understanding of emotional intelligence is that it has an intra-personal dimension that connects me to my own feelings and needs and an interpersonal dimension that enables me to respond appropriately to others’ feelings and needs.

I recall the challenge of working with a local authority in east London in the early 90s and the ready dismissal of the relevance of such dimensions of emotional intelligence as empathy and compassion as ‘touchy feely’ and ‘tree hugging’ notions that had no practical place in the work environment. We have come a long way since then.

Sigal Barsade, Wharton management professor, describes the workplace ethos in which empathy and a concern about co-workers is present as “companionate love”. Her research, alongside Olivia O’Neil from George Mason University, links this to higher levels of morale, team work and customer satisfaction, i.e. successful delivery of services. This has been confirmed not only in their study of a long-term healthcare facility, where one might expect high degrees of empathy and compassion, but also in workplace scenarios beyond healthcare settings. The follow-up study looked at a broad range of industries as varied as real estate and public utilities. Across the board the presence of empathy – or, in Barsade’s phrase, “companionate love” – was associated with greater worker and customer satisfaction, commitment and accountability.

Where there is an evident interest in the personal wellbeing of co-workers by each other and managers, the consequent compassionate and empathic environment seems to enable the work to get done at a higher standard with relationships intact. Where there is a high quality of communication, grounded in an awareness of feelings and needs by managers and workers, the organisational needs, goals and targets are likely to be efficiently served.

So maybe love does have a lot to do with it, Tina. Maybe our Chancellor Sanjeev Baskar’s playful admonition to graduands each year at the Brighton Dome to show him love – or should that be ‘lurve’? – if they want to become graduates also applies to our offices and workplaces around the University. Our wellbeing and efficiency may depend on just how much ‘lurve’ we show one another.

Leave a Reply