OK, don’t get your knickers in a knot. We’re not talking about illicit affairs steaming up the supply closet, or after-hours trysts with clients. Today, in the first of a two-part series, Christy Cassisa is talking about an entirely different sort of love — it’s called companionate love, and new research shows it is good for employers, employees and even clients.
What Is Companionate Love?
Companionate love refers to a type of emotional culture found in the workplace, one in which employees care for one another and relationships are based on warmth, affection and connection. Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill identified it in a 2014 study. In the law, we too often see emotional cultures of FUD — fear, uncertainty and doubt. Some law offices have cultures of anger, passive aggression or competition. Very few, I’d wager, have a culture of compassion, care and support.
But research is showing we need to change that.
How Does Companionate Love Work?
The Barsade and O’Neill study was conducted in a large nonprofit long-term health-care facility and hospital, in which they surveyed 185 employees, 108 patients and 42 patient family members at two points in time, 16 months apart. The researchers’ methods explored the influence that the emotional environment has on employee, patient and family outcomes. Caring for patients in health-care settings is understandably challenging due to the intimate nature of the patient-caregiver relationship and the frequency of life and death decisions. Compassion fatigue and burnout are very real outcomes in these types of jobs, and much has been written about the resulting damage to employees and patients alike. When the caregiver is hurting, it’s not easy to be fully present or compassionate for the patient.
Measures that were evaluated included levels of tenderness, compassion, affection and caring of the employees toward each other, not necessarily toward their clients. The supposition the researchers made was that if employees treated each other with caring, compassion, tenderness and affection, not only would the employees themselves benefit, but those benefits would also carry over to residents and their families. And indeed all was shown to be true.
They found that employees who worked in units showing higher levels of companionate love had lower levels of absenteeism and employee burnout. The researchers also discovered that a culture of companionate love among employees led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and satisfaction.
And the patients? They derived benefits from these happier employees, too. There was a positive correlation across the board between a culture of companionate love and patient quality of life, in measures of commonly used to assess long-term care facilities, including improved patient mood, fewer trips to the ER, comfort, dignity and spiritual fulfillment.
But We’re Not Nurses and Doctors — What About Lawyers?
Barsade and O’Neill wondered if the positive results that accompanied companionate love in the workplace would be replicated in other jobs in other industries, those that didn’t inherently involve love and care.
“What we found was that companionate love does matter across a broad range of industries, including those as diverse as real estate, finance and public utilities,” O’Neill said. “Overall, we found that — regardless of the industry baseline — to the extent that there’s a greater culture of companionate love, that culture is associated with greater satisfaction, commitment and accountability.” They are currently studying the effects of companionate love on firefighters. Not exactly a touchy-feely crowd. Maybe they should study lawyers next.
So let’s think about how these findings might apply to the law. We are a profession that is supposedly comprised of counselors and advisors. Many of us were drawn to the law by an internal, idealistic desire to do good and to help others. And our clients are very frequently in great emotional distress — lawyers are usually needed most when there is a problem. Similar to caregiving professions, much has been written about the dismal statistics relating to lawyer health, well-being and job satisfaction. Burnout and compassion fatigue are very real in our profession. To their credit, law schools and legal employers are increasingly offering wellness programs to their people. But these efforts are akin to applying an anesthetic to a gushing wound. They might provide a brief respite from the pain of the current moment, but they do nothing to solve the underlying problem with our culture.
Imagine how different the law might be if members of our profession were able to just admit they are normal human beings, with emotions and reactions just like everyone else. If it weren’t considered a weakness but a strength to accept one’s humanity. What if legal employers could accept that emotions influence the work that lawyers do and maybe even make their work better? What if lawyers could embrace the idea that a positive emotional culture could improve not only their own experience of work, but also their work product and resulting client satisfaction?
So how can legal employers (and law schools!) build a culture of companionate love in the law? Developing that culture will take commitment by leadership as well as by individuals. Law schools should teach these strategies as critical components of conscious lawyering. Clients should outright demand it.
Love in the law. Okay, so maybe it would be good for us and our clients, but how would we even go about starting to get there? In the next post, we’ll get practical.
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