Study: Focus on forging ‘emotional connections’

Company cultures driven by ‘love’ and ‘joy’ are far more likely to facilitate positive relationships and deepen employee engagement. Here’s what internal communicators can do.


American corporate culture has come a long way from the days of show up, do your job, and keep your mouth shut.

Eschewing antiquated models of impersonal, top-down communication and draconian policies, company leaders are increasingly concerned with workers’ feelings and emotions. This is a good thing for businesses and employees, as highlighted by a study from Linjuan Rita Men, an associate professor of public relations at the University of Florida.

Men devised an online survey that asked employees to rate their company’s environment on aspects of “joy,” “love,” “fear” and “sadness.” She set out to find a correlation between companies’ “emotional culture” and the quality of “employee-organization relationships.”

Men elaborated:

Employees were asked to evaluate their relationship with the organization they work for in terms of trust, satisfaction, commitment and shared control.

A total of 506 workers participated in the study. Here’s a breakdown of the respondents:

The final sample was composed of 56.3 percent males and 43.7 percent females, and 53.6 percent non-management and 46.4 percent management employees. The average age was 46, and the average corporate tenure was 11 years. Approximately 62.5 percent of the respondents held at least a bachelor’s degree. The employees were from 19 different industry sectors.

As for the survey’s findings, cultures marked by “love” and “joy” brought many benefits:

The results showed that the organizations’ emotional cultures of love and joy positively influence employee-organization relationships, whereas cultures of fear and sadness cast negative effects.

In particular, an emotional culture characterized by joy, happiness, excitement, compassionate love, affection and warmth can meet employees’ psychological need for mutual respect, care, connection and reliance on one another in the organization. Such culture also contributes to employees’ trust, satisfaction, feeling of mutual control and commitment toward the organization. However, when the organization’s emotional culture and atmosphere is downhearted, discouraged and sad, employees are less likely to develop quality relationships with the organization. When the organization’s emotional culture is fearful, nervous and scared, employees tend to feel disconnected with the organization and co-workers and their psychological need for relatedness is less likely to be met.

Internal communicators can help create a positive culture and establish genuine companywide connections, though that’s easier said than done. Aside from focusing on social events, office décor, uplifting messages and encouraging employee feedback, Men suggests:

Managers at different levels in the organization should take the initiative to consciously shape positive organizational emotional cultures (such as joy and compassionate love) that promote favorable relational outcomes and avoid the sadness or fear that hinders relationship building with employees.

This study adds empirical weight to the notion that culture has a direct impact on an organization’s success—or failure. Internal communication can tilt the balance of power in either direction, so it’s a business function well worth attention and energy.

Click here to read more about Men’s research and results.

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