Approved Love at Work
Around Valentine's Day, I'm usually compelled to write an article about why love in the workplace is a bad idea, especially between supervisors and their subordinates. However, this year I'm encouraging employers and supervisors to take deliberate steps to create a loving workplace. Why? Because this kind of love is good for business and everyone involved.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I still frown upon romantic relationships at work. The love I'm talking about is "any positive emotion that we share with another person in real time." That's the definition of love according to emotion researcher Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. She says this positive emotion "could be shared serenity, pride, or compassion, but the minute that it becomes shared, it is converted to an experience of love."
And, what happens when we experience these moments of love at work? Said Fredrickson, "These micro-moments of connection are the key to unlocking more generative capacity." In other words, they lead to greater creativity and productivity.
For those employers and supervisors who are thinking this love at work stuff is a bunch of new age hooey, I offer this scientific data.
In his paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" published in Psychological Review in 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that humans are motivated to behave the way they do because of having certain needs, including the need for love and belonging. Humans need to love and be loved - sexually and non-sexually - by others. Without this love, people suffer.
Numerous scientific studies later, research has demonstrated that this need for love is caused by the hardwiring of our brains. Amy Banks, M.D. and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School stated in a 2010 interview that, "Neuroscience is confirming that our nervous systems want us to connect with other human beings." And, what happens when we don't connect with others? Said Banks, "the distress of social pain is biologically identical to the distress of physical pain."
You don't have to be a scientist to understand that pain and isolation is not a good thing. Simply put, employees who feel connected to their employer, supervisor, and co-workers perform better than those who don't. Furthermore, this feeling of connection is created by those moments of shared positive emotion, or love, that Fredrickson wrote about.
So, here are the deliberate steps that I encourage employers and supervisors to take to create a loving workplace:
- Be present. This means interacting with employees face-to-face as well as focusing all of your attention on them during these interactions instead of your computer or phone.
- Be honest. People can't connect with others who aren't authentic. This includes telling employees when they have not met your expectations and what they should do to meet them.
- Be tactful. Say what needs to be said in a way that does not destroy people.
- Be personable. Let employees get to know you and get to know them. I'm not suggesting getting involved in each other's personal lives; I am suggesting a conversation now and then about something other than work.
- Resolve conflicts. Avoiding conflicts actually creates more barriers to connection.
- Say, "I'm sorry" when you've made a mistake. Sounds obvious, but people in positions of authority often have the misguided notion that they always have to be right.
- Keep people in the loop. Provide monthly or at least quarterly updates on finances, new clients, operational changes, etc.
- Provide social opportunities. You don't have to foot the bill for a lavish party; just bring in cookies or a pizza that employees can munch on while chatting.
- Celebrate successes. Employers and supervisors who think that people are supposed to do a good job and therefore shouldn't have to be thanked for doing so need to think again.
- Taking these steps isn't just for the benefit of employees. Indeed, moments of connection positively impact everyone who is sharing them.
Mother Teresa said, "Work without love is slavery." If you have ever had a job that you hated then you know what she meant. Help your employees love their work by taking deliberate steps to connect with them. You'll love the effect it has on your employees, yourself, and your business.