When Sigal Barsade, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, recently studied how workplace compassion affects performance, she didn't find anything earth-shattering. Surprise, surprise--employees thrive in caring environments.  

What she did uncover was better insight into what it takes to successfully build that kind of environment. As she pointed out in a recent post on Psychology Today, some managers might think that they've already mastered a healthy company culture just because the office isn't a hostile place. 

However, "As Elie Wiesel famously said, 'The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference,'" she wrote.

Barsade's longitudinal study of "compassionate love" in the workplace involved more than 3,000 employees across multiple industries, including biopharmaceuticals, financial services, and higher education.

In her post, Barsade explained what she meant by "compassionate love." This emotion is much less intense than romantic love. "It is a social, 'other-focused' emotion, promoting interdependence and sensitivity toward other people," she said. 

Compassionate Love in Practice 

A prime example occurs when an employee needs to miss work due to a family emergency, and his colleagues collectively cover for him--rather then let his work pile up while he's absent. To further illustrate what constitutes a caring company culture, Barsade provided some of her favorite examples from her research: 

  • After a woman at one company was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, her coworkers began to bring her breakfast and flowers in the morning.
  • Next Jump, creator of corporate rewards programs, had a "NxJ Love Day." The surprise day off was in recognition of the love employees show each other all year round.  
  • Cisco Systems, which employs tens of thousands of people, developed an internal system to alert the CEO whenever someone at the company--or his or her immediate family members--became seriously ill or died.

The last example highlights the point Barsade aimed to emphasize: "The primary determinant of how much companionate love will exist in a manager's group is the companionate love expressed by the manager." 

You can decide what kind of culture you want to foster--whether it be a competitive, customer-focused, or a results-oriented one. But if you want to promote a culture of compassionate love, you'll have to work just as hard at it, Barsade said. 


Published on: Aug 18, 2014