When we talk about corporate cultures, we typically dream into what is called the ‘cognitive culture’: the way employees think and behave. That is, how customer-focused, innovative, team-oriented, or competitive they are or should be. And this is crucial to an organization’s success.

But it’s only part of the story. The other critical part is a company’s emotional culture: the shared values governing which emotions people express at work, and the space created for it. Every organization has an emotional culture, even if it is one where negative emotions are suppressed. But in such a culture, we ignore what makes people tick. Especially when we ignore the emotions stemming from one’s personal life, because now-a-days the boundaries between the personal and professional have blurred.

The question here: how should companies respond when employees are coping with personal challenges?

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, took a step towards addressing this. She announced a bereavement policy of two weeks for the company’s employees. And a special care policy of 10 days too, to tend to loved ones who are sick. This is an attempt to help people commit to their grieving and healing, because during difficult life phases, work and personal life do tend to bleed into each other.

Research shows that companies see strong dividends when they support employees in times of personal crisis. People feel they belong to a ‘human’ workplace, and it influences their commitment, satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, and even hard measures such as financial performance and absenteeism.

How can you show up more for your employees? Build a culture of companionate love – the degree of affection, caring, and compassion that employees feel and express towards one another.

Wharton School of Business conducted a comprehensive study of firefighters’ emotional culture. They noticed two emotions strongly – joviality, expressed mainly through elaborate jokes, and the second one was companionate love. The firefighters supported one another by offering words of encouragement when someone was struggling after a tough call, or was going through a painful divorce. They also offered nonverbal gestures of affection, such as a bear hug.

Organizations like Censeo have embraced this too. CEO Raj Sharma wants a company built on authentic connections. So, the firm refuses to hire people who may destroy it. Employees are held accountable for cultivating genuine relationships, and treat each other with compassion. They’re even encouraged to confront colleagues—including those above them in the hierarchy—for disregarding others’ feelings.

Just take a moment to reflect on how your company’s practices can foster greater affection and care among workers. For example, Cisco CEO John Chambers asks that he be notified within 48 hours when an employee’s family member passes away. At some companies, employees can forego vacation days or organize emergency funds to help fellow employees who need it.

All these are ways in which we can create humane workplaces where people can show up with difficult emotions, and be seen for it. And when fellow employees know what’s going on, they can acknowledge it and offer support. How are you going to make your workplace humane? Share ideas with us.

Leave a Reply