Date: December 22, 2017

Spreading the Love at Work

Workplace culture.

This is becoming a top priority for business leaders around the world, according to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends. In fact, research shows that 86% of business leaders rate culture as one of the most urgent talent issues.

And it isn’t just the need to talk about company culture, but also the need to define culture, measure it and examine how it may be misaligned.

There’s no question that defining a purpose for your organization is vital. Studies prove that companies with a strong sense of purpose and a clearly defined set of values outperform their peers. So what’s the key to developing a strong purpose and clear values?

The answer is love and compassion—otherwise known as “emotional culture.”

While these behaviors are not typically found in the corporate world, research shows they have a very strong influence in the workplace. Employee health and the bottom line can actually improve within a culture based on connection, warmth, affection, love, pride and joy.

One study found that employees who work in a culture where they feel free to express affection, tenderness, caring and compassion for others are more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization and accountable for their performance. Additional research by Ed Diener and Martin Seligman suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps individuals enjoy better mental and physical health.

The love is already spreading into the corporate world as some organizations move away from cognitive cultures that focus on innovation, teamwork and results—in favor of emotional cultures.

For example, Zappos believes in building a team and a family as part of its core values: “At Zappos, our team is our family, which is why we place such an emphasis on having a positive company culture. Team members always have a direct influence on one another, which is why we aim to foster an environment that produces positivity.”

And Whole Foods Market lists “love” in the first sentence of the organization’s purpose statement: “With great courage, integrity and love, we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities and our planet can flourish.”

Compassion research is clearly setting the tone for the workplace. But how can organizations embrace this research and foster a culture of love? Here are a few ideas:

  • Connection, warmth and affection need to trickle down from the top of an organization. Managers should consistently encourage these behaviors from all employees and support deep workplace relationships.
  • Show appreciation by simply saying “thank you.” A genuine thank you can have very positive effects.
  • Examine your organization’s policies and practices. Refine these to foster greater caring and warmth throughout the entire organization.
  • Make time for conversations with employees about their work experience, as well as their personal experiences.
  • It’s vital for employees to spend time together not working. Organizations need to create the space for these experiences.
  • Expand your definition of culture. Move away from company values that solely focus on results. Instead, concentrate on principles that foster warmth and joy.
  • Because compassion is a trainable skill, teach compassion at work. For example, Dan Martin and Yotam Heineberg–visiting scholars at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education–developed compassion training for the workplace. This curriculum helps individuals become aware of how they typically respond to stress in social and work situations—and trains them to respond in more appropriate ways via tools, such as self-soothing, empathic listening and compassion. The focus of the program is on helping people enhance the quality of their social interactions in the workplace.

If a kind gesture and a sympathetic ear can help create a strong, positive culture, why wouldn’t organizations want to foster these behaviors? After all, who doesn’t want to work in a company that actually cares about its employees?

In the words of Weili Dai, president of Marvell Technology Group Ltd., one of the biggest semiconductor producers in the world, with company values that embrace fairness and caring: “If you feel like you’re doing good things and have good intentions, and you’re taking care of people with the right principles and ethics, you’re actually a lot happier.”

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