Pinky promise

Companionate love

Companionate love. I don’t like the term they developed for this, but the idea is still worth sharing. A series of studies from Olivia O’Neill at GMU’s School of Management looked into the effects of having strong, caring bonds among employees. Not romantic, but not totally platonic either. A real sense of caring.

The reasoning goes that you spend a third of your life in bed, so spring for a comfortable mattress. The result, theoretically, will be a happier and more productive you.

You also spend a third of your life at work, in the company of colleagues with whom you might interact more than members of your family. So, it would stand to reason, an affectionate work environment also will result in a happier and more productive you.

I have some close friends like that, and I can imagine having some at work. My gut tells me that it would have some positive consequences. Their research indicates that it does. One study was a deep dive into a long term health care facility. More companionate love between caregivers and patients and among the caregivers themselves was associated with work satisfaction, lower health costs for the patients and for the caregivers, higher job performance (including quality – which is harder to influence than quantity), greater employee retention.

The second study was a general survey to establish some generalizability. This is important because the health care environment tends to have more compassion in it to begin with than most workplaces. It might not have been a fair comparison. So they surveyed 3,201 employees across 17 organizations in seven industries. It was just a survey, but they established that in workplaces where employees reported more companionate love behaviors there was higher job satisfaction. This probably leads to similar benefits that were found with the healthcare facility – job performance, retention, and even health care costs if it reduces occupational stress.

My Take
The challenges that I see in this whole idea is what organizations can do about it.

  • They suggest using HR to hire employees with more potential for companionate love. But how can you know?
  • They suggest having upper management promote this as an organizational value. But these kinds of statements generally don’t work when employees are faced with real job demands and supervision that focuses mostly on output.
  • They also suggest helping it emerge organically. Two employees develop some companionate love and it spreads. But I can see the opposite happening. Other employees become jealous of the relationship and have less companionate love for both of them. Or you can have cliques develop that hurt employee morale.

Your Turn

I am really curious to hear your thoughts. Is this BS? Is it a good concept but impossible to create in a workplace? Do you have any of these relationships at work? Let us know.

Image Credit: cherylholt

2 thoughts on “Companionate love”

  1. ‘Companionate love’: I would simply call it ‘work friendship’. I have to agree with the fact that getting on with your work colleagues to a point where we can call them friends does help you perform better. You feel much happier working with people who respect you and with whom you can have a laugh while getting work done. As a result, the productivity of an individual can only increase in this case. Friendship happens naturally in any workplace where respect among employees is present.

  2. Rosanne – Thanks for chiming in. I think it has long been known about general collegiality and performance. This paper seems to take it a little further. You have to REALLY care. Beyond ‘work friendship’. More like having a bunch of BFFs at work.

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