What’s Love Got to Do with It? A Longitudinal Study of the Culture of Companionate Love and Employee and Client Outcomes in a Long-term Care Setting, Barsdale and O’Neill 2014

I have blogged before about the relationship between morale and clinical outcomes. From 2014 in Administrative Science Quarterly , a paper which links this with another interest of mine, workplace friendships .


Here is the abstract:

In this longitudinal study, we build a theory of a culture of companionate love—feelings of affection, compassion, caring, and tenderness for others—at work, examining the culture’s influence on outcomes for employees and the clients they serve in a long-term care setting. Using measures derived from outside observers, employees, family members, and cultural artifacts, we find that an emotional culture of companionate love at work positively relates to employees’ satisfaction and teamwork and negatively relates to their absenteeism and emotional exhaustion. Employees’ trait positive affectivity (trait PA)—one’s tendency to have a pleasant emotional engagement with one’s environment—moderates the influence of the culture of companionate love, amplifying its positive influence for employees higher in trait PA. We also find a positive association between a culture of companionate love and clients’ outcomes, specifically, better patient mood, quality of life, satisfaction, and fewer trips to the emergency room. The study finds some association between a culture of love and families’ satisfaction with the long-term care facility. We discuss the implications of a culture of companionate love for both cognitive and emotional theories of organizational culture. We also consider the relevance of a culture of companionate love in other industries and explore its managerial implications for the healthcare industry and beyond.

Few outcomes are as “hard” – or as appealing to a certain strand of management – than “fewer trips to the emergency room.” The authors squarely and unashamedly go beyond the often euphemistic language of this kind of paper to focus on love:

‘‘Love’’ is a word rarely found in the modern management literature, yet for more than half a century, psychologists have studied companionate love— defined as feelings of affection, compassion, caring, and tenderness for others—as a basic emotion fundamental to the human experience (Walster and Walster, 1978; Reis and Aron, 2008). Companionate love is a far less intense emotion than romantic love (Hatfield and Rapson, 1993, 2000); instead of being based on passion, it is based on warmth, connection (Fehr, 1988; Sternberg, 1988), and the ‘‘affection we feel for those with whom our lives are deeply intertwined’’ (Berscheid and Walster, 1978: 177). Unlike self-focused positive emotions (such as pride or joy), which center on independence and self- orientation, companionate love is an other-focused emotion, promoting interdependence and sensitivity toward other people (Markus and Kitayama, 1991; Gonzaga et al., 2001).

Companionate love is therefore distinct from the romantic love which so dominates our thought when we think about love. As is often the case, we moderns are not nearly as new in our thinking as we would like to see ourselves:

Considering the large proportion of our lives we spend with others at work (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011), the influence of companionate love in other varied life domains (Shaver et al., 1987), and the growing field of positive organizational scholarship, which focuses on human connections at work (Rynes et al., 2012), it is reasonable to expect that this basic human emotion will not only exist at work but that it will also influence workplace outcomes. Although the term ‘‘companionate love’’ had not yet been coined, the work of early twentieth-century organizational scholars revealed rich evidence of deep connections between workers involving the feelings of affection, caring, and compassion that comprise companionate love. Hersey’s (1932) daily experi- ence sampling study of Pennsylvania Railroad System employees, for example, recorded the importance of caring, affection, compassion, and tenderness, as well as highlighting the negative effects when these emotions were absent, particularly in relationships with foremen. Similarly, Roethlisberger and Dickson’s (1939) detailed study of factory life provided crisp observations of companionate love in descriptions of workers’ interactions, describing supervisors who showed genuine affection, care, compassion, and tenderness toward their employees.

There is nothing new under the sun. In subsequent decades this kind of research was abandoned.  The authors go on to describe the distinctions between strong and weak cultures of companionate love:

Like the concept of cognitive organizational culture, a culture of companio- nate love can be characterized as strong or weak. To picture a strong culture of companionate love, first imagine a pair of coworkers collaborating side by side, each day expressing caring and affection toward one another, safeguarding each other’s feelings, showing tenderness and compassion when things don’t go well, and supporting each other in work and non-work matters. Then expand this image to an entire network of dyadic and group interactions so that this type of caring, affection, tenderness, and compassion occurs frequently within most of the dyads and groups throughout the entire social unit: a clear picture emerges of a culture of companionate love. Such a culture involves high ‘‘crystallization,’’ that is, pervasiveness or consensus among employees in enacting the culture (Jackson, 1966).

An example of high crystallization appears in a qualitative study of social workers (Kahn, 1993) in which compassion spreads through the network of employees in a ‘‘flow and reverse flow’’ of the emotion from employees to one another and to supervisors and back. This crystallization of companionate love can cross organizational levels; for example, an employee at a medical center described the pervasiveness of companionate love through- out the unit: ‘‘We are a family. When you walk in the door, you can feel it. Everyone cares for each other regardless of whatever level you are in. We all watch out for each other’’ (http://auroramed.dotcms.org/careers/employee_ voices.htm). Words like ‘‘all’’ and ‘‘everyone’’ in conjunction with affection, caring, and compassion are hallmarks of a high crystallization culture of companio- nate love.

Another characteristic of a strong culture of companionate love is a high degree of displayed intensity (Jackson, 1966) of emotional expression of affec- tion, caring, compassion, and tenderness. This can be seen in the example of an employee diagnosed with multiple sclerosis who described a work group whose members treated her with tremendous companionate love during her daily struggles with the condition. ‘‘My coworkers showed me more love and compassion than I would ever have imagined. Do I wish that I didn’t have MS? Of course. But would I give up the opportunity to witness and receive so much love? No way’’ (Lilius et al., 2003: 23).

In weak cultures of companionate love, expressions of affection, caring, compassion, or tenderness among employees are minimal or non-existent, showing both low intensity and low crystallization. Employees in cultures low in companionate love show indifference or even callousness toward each other, do not offer or expect the emotions that companionate love comprises when things are going well, and do not allow room to deal with distress in the workplace when things are not going well. In a recent hospital case study, when a nurse with 30 years of tenure told her supervisor that her mother-in- law had died, her supervisor responded not with compassion or even sympathy, but by saying, ‘‘I have staff that handles this. I don’t want to deal with it’’ (Lilius et al., 2008: 209). Contrast this reaction with one from the billing unit of a health services organization in which an employee described her coworkers’ reactions following the death of her mother: ‘‘I did not expect any of the compassion and sympathy and the love, the actual love that I got from co-workers’’ (Lilius et al., 2011: 880).

This is obviously a paper I could simply post extracts from all day but at this point I will desist. Perhaps rather than “What’s Love Got to Do With It? the authors could have invoked “All You Need is Love?

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Friendship and Work in Medicine and Healthcare

In 2001, Digby Anderson wrote a short book, Losing Friends, about what he described as the decline of friendship. This New York Times “At Lunch With” pieces ummarises his argument:

”All past civilizations have declined, and Western civilization is about due to go,” he said, gamely piling his plate with assorted meats and salads. ”The death of friendship is one symptom of that.”

He says he believes political extremism has rendered friends powerless to help one another. Liberals’ insistence on equal opportunity and impartiality, he said, has led to ”egalitarian bureaucracy,” a muddling of what had once been smooth-flowing business networks based on friendships. Years ago, he said, friends happily helped one another find jobs; today they shy away, lest they be accused of favoritism.

”Even though it makes sense to hire a friend, or even a friend’s friend, there’s this feeling that you have to give everyone an equal chance,” he said.

The blow from the right, he said, has been a constant emphasis on the family as the ”repository of all virtues” — and, thus, the only institution worthy of trust and time.

”The ancient Greeks had a better idea: they considered their friends to actually be their family,” Dr. Anderson said.

My recollection of the reasons he gives in the book why “it makes sense to hire a friend, or even a friend’s friend”, is because of the special knowledge which friendship gives us about someone’s true nature. A friend – a true friend – is also less likely to screw over their friend… or at least thats the theory. I wonder how strong the evidence is for the counter argument, that hiring friends is somehow bad?

I am not sure how much I buy of Digby Anderson’s overall argument about hiring friends etc, but there is definitely something in his reflections on the decline of friendship.

The official blurb is also interesting:

“One loyal friend is worth 10,000 relatives”, said Euripides. Aristotle thought friendship the best thing in the world. Saint Augustine was devastated by the death of a friend, “All that we had done together was now a grim ordeal without him”. For men as different as Dr Johnson, Coleridge and Cardinal Newman friendship was a great, moral love. For Cicero it was a foundation of social order. For Burke “good men [must] cultivate friendships”. To try to lead a good life on one’s own is arrogant and dangerous. In past ages business thrived on the trust of friends; armies won battles on the loyalty of men to their comrades and people were attracted to and schooled in medicine, law and academe by friendship. This friendship of the past was high friendship, a friendship of pleasure but also of shared moral life.

LOSING FRIENDS contrasts this high friendship with the “pathetic affairs” which pass for friendship today. Friendship is in trouble. An institution once as important as the family, has been “diluted to mere recreation…passing an odd evening together…sharing the odd confidence”. It is being outsted from business through fear of cronyism and squeezed between the demands of work and the increasingly jealous family. Fathers neglect their obligations to their friends at the club or pub to bath their children. Many of us will have no friends in illness, in need or at our funerals. Bewildered letters to agony aunts ask how to make friends. Schools are absurdly introducing classes on how to do so. Our society has no public recognition of friendship and cannot even discuss it articulately. When it does it sentimentalizes it. Modern society is wealthy, healthy and long lived. Aristotle would ask what the point of such a life is if lived without friends.

I have (or had) a copy of the book somewhere. I read it in around 2004. The message did resonate, and since I have seen how social pressures that tend to squeeze out friendship intensity.

Healthcare in general, and medicine in particular, is on one level a fertile ground for friendship. One ends up spending a lot of time with other people engaged in what is  a highly intense, demanding role. It is natural enough for some strong bonds to form, as over the hurried coffees and lunches some small talk is exchanged. There has also been a boozy culture around medicine in the past at least, and while one could make many observations on the role of alcohol as a form of self-medication, there was a social side to all this.

And yet the structure of medical training in particular is not conducive to longer term friendships. One spends three, or six, or at most twelve months in a post as a trainee  doctor. The intense friendships of one rotation are suddenly severed. With the best will in the world, and my sense is the unreal interactions of social media have exacerbated rather than ameliorated this, it is hard to keep up. And when one completes training, the camaraderie of the res room is something that is closed to you.

The factors that Dr Anderson discusses – the suspicion of anything that might hint of favouritism, the dulling bureaucratic managerial discourse of healthcare management, a sort of idolatory of the family now as much a left as right wing feature – are present in medicine too.

How does friendship relate to the issues of morale and a healthy work culture I have blogged about before? The importance of “psychological safety” in team interactions is emphasised in Google’s Project Aristotle as key to successful team interactions. Fostering a sense that teams can communicate openly, without fear of recrimination or embarrassment, sounds to me very much like fostering friendship. Of course, perhaps this is falling into some kind of trap where friendship can be subservient to the interests of an organisation, and indeed denigrating friendship as something that needs to be justified in pragmatic, utilitarian terms.