HR: What's Love Got to Do With It?

Love. It's a powerful word and one we think more about at Valentine's Day. But does love have a place at work?

In fact, it does, based on a longitudinal study from the Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business, What’s Love Got to Do with It? Not only does love play a role in enhancing employee productivity, it can also mean better customer interactions. While the study’s focus is on the long-term care service industry, its findings also hold ramifications for other workplace and business settings.

"Our research confirms that employees can, indeed, experience companionate love at work and reveals that a culture of companionate love relates to important outcomes for employees and clients," the study’s researchers report. "In response to Tina Turner’s famously haunting lyrics, love, actually, has very much to do with it."

Workplaces Need Compassion

Human resource managers take note: The researchers are careful to explain that we’re not talking about office romance, the stuff that’s often the source of sexual harassment suits and disruption.

The kind of love that’s needed in the workplace is "compassionate love, which is far less intense than romantic love," researchers note in a Harvard Business Review article about the study. "Compassionate love is based on warmth, affection and connection rather than passion. Companies noted by the researchers for cultures of compassion include Whole Foods Market, PepsiCo and Zappos.

The Look of Compassionate Love

What does compassionate love look like at work? "Imagine a pair of co-workers collaborating side by side, each day expressing caring and affection towards one another, safeguarding each other’s feelings, showing tenderness and compassion when things don’t go well," the researchers explain. "Now imagine a workplace that encourages those behaviors from everyone, where managers actively look for ways to create and reinforce close workplace relationships among employees."

They offer three ways to help build and emotional culture of compassion:

  • Focus on emotional culture instead of just values such as teamwork, results and innovation.
  • Pay attention to the emotions expressed by employees each day.
  • Design company policies and practices that "foster greater affection, caring, compassion and tenderness."

Engaging Workers

A Gallup survey points out that 70 percent of U.S workers are not engaged at work. Obviously, more work needs to be done. Perhaps the first place to start is understanding that many employees don’t feel they have a voice, says Matt Straz, CEO if Namely, in an Entrepreneur article.

"The problem is, many employers forget their employees are people who want to feel a sense of belonging and know that their work makes a positive impact on the organization," Straz says. He advices organizations to focus on employee strengths, create realistic goals, hire the right managers, stress active listening, encourage innovation and creativity, celebrate wins and promote transparent communication.

Perks, employee rewards and recognition programs are common HR approaches, but may be just the tip of the iceberg to creating more compassionate work environments. Employees, as people, respond and reflect more on day-to-day habits and behaviors ― what I like to think of as the spirit or temperament of a company.

HR is in the perfect position to influence company spirit through the selection of inspiring leaders, and by interconnecting with departments to ensure positive cultures, continuous development of skills and appreciation for each worker’s contributions. Compassionate love, it turns out, is much more than "a second-hand emotion."

Happy Valentine’s Day!