There is plenty of advice out there about how to boost employee morale. Some say compensation matters most. Others say it's more about empowering workers. But there could be a fix that's vastly underrated: Try showing employees more compassion.
Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade and George Mason University assistant management professor Olivia "Mandy" O'Neill conducted a 16-month study on the effects of "compassionate love," which includes empathy, caring for someone's feelings and life, and listening to a person's needs, at a long-term health care facility with 185 employees, 108 patients, and 42 patient relatives. The study revealed, as reported in Knowledge@Wharton, University of Pennsylvania's business school blog, that compassion can increase employee morale and a sense of teamwork, and even trickles down to boost customer satisfaction.
Barsade and O'Neill conducted a second study with 3,201 employees across seven industries and found similar results--a culture of compassion increased employee commitment, accountability, and performance.
And if you're confused, professional compassionate love doesn't involve snuggling, kissing, or hugs. The technique is more subtle--and appropriate--than that. It means simple acts of tenderness and affection, from asking how an employee's family is doing to grabbing an extra cup of coffee and putting it on someone's desk when you get one for yourself.
"[Management and executives] should be thinking about the emotional culture," Barsade told Knowledge@Wharton. "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."
Below, read how showing a little compassion, tenderness, and affection at work can improve your organization.
Fewer Sick Days, More Engagement
Barsade and O'Neill's two studies found that being careful of listening to employees and being aware of their feelings can reduce sick days and burnout. By making the office more loving and less stressful, employees will feel more comfortable and appreciated.
During the first study, the researchers tracked employee withdrawal by asking workers about their feelings of emotional exhaustion and looking at absenteeism rates. Groups of employees who had higher levels of compassionate love had lower levels of exhaustion and sick days. The groups with higher compassion rates were also more team-oriented and satisfied with their jobs.
Increased Customer Satisfaction
Barsade and O'Neill also measured the effect of a culture of compassion on the patients and their families. By tracking the patients' health, the first study found that patients who were taken care of by employees in the compassionate culture had fewer trips to the emergency room. Satisfaction rates also increased. "Even though this has to do with how employees are treating each other, and not necessarily how they are treating their clients, we argue that if they treat each other with caring, compassion, tenderness, and affection, that will spill over to residents and their families," Barsade tells Knowledge@Wharton.
Lower Work-Life Issues
These two studies have also spawned similar ones in different fields of employment. O'Neill has just teamed up with Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard to study firefighters. What they have found is that compassionate love on the job can decrease instances of negative effects a job has on the employee's family. "What we see is that companionate love acts as a helper for the problems they struggle with at work and outside of work," O'Neill says. "For example, [firefighters] tend to have high levels of work-family conflict because of the stress that comes from the job. Companionate love actually helps to buffer the effect of job stress and work-family conflict on other outcomes."