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Does A Culture of ‘Love’ Make A Happy Workplace?


Tuesday, 18th April 2017 at 8:10 am
Lina Caneva, Editor
A new US study into male dominated workplaces has found that having an emotional culture of “love” isn’t always enough to make a happy workplace.


Tuesday, 18th April 2017
at 8:10 am
Lina Caneva, Editor


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Does A Culture of ‘Love’ Make A Happy Workplace?
Tuesday, 18th April 2017 at 8:10 am

A new US study into male dominated workplaces has found that having an emotional culture of “love” isn’t always enough to make a happy workplace.

The latest research paper by Wharton University management professor Nancy Rothbard, Is Love All You Need? The Effects of Emotional Culture, Suppression, and Work–family Conflict on Firefighter Risk-taking and Health, examines the role of emotion in majority-male organisations.

Rothbard and co-author Olivia Amanda O’Neill, a management professor at George Mason University, conducted a qualitative study of fire stations in metropolitan areas and found that the most fulfilling workplaces were both compassionate (having the “love” culture) and convivial.

“We wanted to go in and understand how the emotional culture of an organisation could affect how people both interact in the workplace, but also what the effects on them physiologically might be,” Rothbard said in a podcast about her research.

“We were really interested in looking at emotional culture, in particular the culture of love, as well as another particular type of culture that often emerges in organisations, especially masculine organisations, which is called ‘culture of joviality’.

“A culture of joviality is sort of the fun, the joking, the pranks, kind of a macho, back slapping, teasing type of a culture. A culture of companionate love is really one where there is a sense of compassion, caring and affection for one another.

“What was interesting about looking at this question in the context of firefighters is that this is a really extreme setting to think about the question of love. There’s a little bit of past research that’s looked at a culture of compassionate love, and that has looked at mostly health care settings and other kinds of organisational settings where it might be more expected, whereas we really wanted to look at an extreme case to see whether love matters and is love evident in these masculine organisations?”

Rothbard said her research found that love does matter, but some other things matter, too.

“There was something about being in a culture where you were able to both joke around but also get the feelings of compassion and caring … that really tempered each other,” she said.

The study also looked at the culture at individual workplaces.

“One of the themes that emerged was this culture of joviality that we expected — the pranks, the humor, all of the kind of fun things that they do to keep themselves occupied and to relieve the stress. But the second emotional theme that emerged around culture was this theme of compassionate love,” Rothbard said.

“Another way to think about compassionate love is brotherly love. It’s not romantic love; it’s giving each other a hug if something tough has come up, making sure that you are there for each other, that you know each other deeply and show that you care about one another. Sometimes, that can be in small acts, like washing the dishes or making sure that you have somebody’s favorite snack in the kitchen. There’s a lot of camaraderie and brotherly love that we also saw at some of these fire stations.

“What’s really interesting about this study to me is that we looked at firefighters as an extreme case of masculine organisations, but this really can apply to lots of different organisations. It can apply to all sorts of settings where the norms are really masculine in terms of the dominant expected behavior.

“It might be a little bit easier to see the connection with firefighters, but we see these same types of behaviors in lots of different occupational settings.”

The research also offered ways of diagnosing any workplace culture.

“First of all, you have to be willing to look and be open to what you find. When you think about emotional culture, there are signs all around us. There are artifacts, statements, stories that people [tell] that you can use to really diagnose [culture] and understand it. With culture and joviality, the thing that you want to look for as a manager is, is it going too far? The teasing and the pranks may be very fun, high energy, high octane, but is that going too far? That’s the thing you worry about with a culture of joviality, right? Is it crossing the line to bullying or harassment? That’s what you don’t want as a manager,” Rothbard said.

“With a culture of compassionate love, what you want to know are things like, are people caring about each other? Are they checking in when somebody is sick? Are they making sure that they know how things are going with a particular individual?

“As a manager, you can model that behavior. If your employee is out sick for a couple of days, you can send them a note or give them a phone call and say: ‘Hey, just thinking of you. How are you doing? Is there anything I can do to help?’ Those kinds of things really help to model a culture of love where people feel like others are looking out for them, that they care about them and that they matter in that organisation.

“I think it’s not as hard as it might seem to model those things and to check to see whether you have a culture of joviality in addition to a culture of love.”


Lina Caneva  |  Editor |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

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