Study reveals a project manager’s hidden key to a happy office

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 By Jack Nevison

Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade and George Mason University assistant management professor Olivia O'Neill have found that it's not only office perks or incentives that motivate employees, but something much simpler. The 16 month study found that "compassionate love," or the act of empathizing with an employee and extending extra courtesies, can reduce employee burnout and time off. These actions also increased employee performance and commitment, which led to higher customer satisfaction and enhanced the project manager's reputation.  

Professor Barsade's definition of "compassionate love" includes such simple acts of kindness and affection as delivering a hot cup of coffee to an employee's desk or asking about their families health. Other examples of compassionate love include asking about an employees personal interests or even remembering a favorite kind of pizza. These seemingly unremarkable interactions can help shorten the work-life divide and lead to happier, more productive employee-manager relationships.

O' Neill argues that the more demanding or stressful the position, the more the employee can benefit from acts of compassionate love:  "For example, [firefighters] tend to have high levels of work-family conflict because of the stress that comes from the job. Compassionate love actually helps to buffer the effect of job stress and work-family conflict on other outcomes."

Barsade and O'Neill's study initially was focused on healthcare patients, and then was broadened to include 3,201 employees across seven industries. The survey asked questions to determine where the employee ranked on a custom "scale" designed to measure tenderness, compassion, and caring. In addition, independent researchers were  brought in to observe these elements in the office, as well as collect the opinions of employees' family members. This data, combined with a rating of the physical work environment, provided detailed insights on a company's "emotional" culture. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of the study was that compassionate love not only improves the morale and efficiency of employees at work, it also has far-reaching benefits outside the office. The families of employees who receive compassionate love at the office are also happier and healthier, with fewer emergency room visits and mental health issues. 

With minimal effort, these "soft"  techniques can make you a more effective project manager of a happier, more productive team. In addition, New Leaf offers over 200 hours of training to raise your quantitative PM skills to the next level. Our QPM games and white papers provide an affordable way to learn while you earn PDU credits for PMP recertification.

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