Why Feeling the Love at Work Is Important

The manager’s guide to creating a more compassionate workplace.

Sapunkele / Shutterstock
Sapunkele / Shutterstock

In recent years, “employee experience” has been a buzzy term across corporations of every size — and for good reason. As Forbes explained it, employee experience “is a bottom-up concept — where processes, places, and workflow are designed around the pre-existing tendencies of the employees.” Essentially, the movement to prioritize the employee experience is a win for everyone — because it enables everyone to do their best work, in addition to boosting well-being and productivity. But, in the words of Tina, what’s love got to do with it?

On the surface, the idea of making sure employees feel loved at work may sound a little off. After all, we may have been taught to turn to our partners, close family members and friends, or even our pets when we’re in search of connection and closeness. But if we dig a little deeper and expand our definition of what it means to love and be loved, it’s easy to see that love deserves to make an appearance in the workplace, too. As researchers Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill writing in the Harvard Business Review noted, “the more love co-workers feel at work, the more engaged they are.” They make the distinction that we’re talking about “companionate love” here, which is rooted in compassion, not passion; it is much less intense than romantic love and is “based on warmth, affection, and connection.”

Barsade and O’Neill, who led a study on the impact of “emotional” company cultures, found that employees who feel they work in loving, caring environments report higher job satisfaction and teamwork. Perhaps most important to point out is that these findings rang true across industries — from healthcare to financial services to real estate. And spreading the love at work doesn’t necessarily mean offering hugs to your team members or sending them heart-eyed emojis every chance you get. It could simply mean exhibiting empathy toward a stressed out-colleague, expressing caring and affection toward a teammate, and showing compassion when things aren’t going great (inside or outside of work) for someone you manage.

Considering that we spend roughly one-third of our lives at work, creating a loveless workplace culture is a missed opportunity. New research from Penn State’s Institute for Computational and Data Sciences is adding to the evidence that experiencing small amounts of love in everyday life boosts psychological well-being. And the amazing thing about “felt love” — or as Zita Oravecz, an assistant professor of human development and family studies and co-author of the study calls it, “micro-moments in your life when you experience resonance with someone” — is that it has the power to increase feelings of optimism and purpose, two things that go a long way at work.

If you aren’t yet convinced that the office is in fact the perfect place to open your heart, consider the concept of a love quotient. Coined by entrepreneur and philanthropist Jack Ma, the love quotient, or LQ, is just as important as emotional intelligence, or EQ. Joey Hubbard, the chief training officer at Thrive Global, says it comes down to demonstrating true caring for the people you manage or work with, and finding ways to act with intention and concern, like asking yourself “Was I as sensitive as I could have been today?” 

If you’re a manager looking to spread the love, make it part of your day-to-day interactions. Don’t make your one-on-one meetings all about housekeeping and checking off a to-do list; aim to prioritize real connection, and listen with a goal of trying to understand. And encourage your direct reports to show up for each other in a compassionate way, too. Love, it turns out, takes a village.

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