I’m not proposing that we turn the workplace into some kind of non-stop group hug. Your job and your private life are different. But encouraging empathy at work can be useful. Neurobiological research is showing that those who psychologically recover more quickly from life’s vicissitudes also tend to have more robust immune function physically. Moreover, immunity levels can be improved. A recent study at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine of patients’ immune systems found that those treated by doctors who had longer and more extensive interaction with patients, and who subsequently gave their doctors high “empathy” ratings, were able to rid themselves of colds a full day earlier, on average, than those who gave doctors low empathy scores. In a 2009 study at a long-term health care facility that looked at the patient, the staff and the family, Sigal Barsade, the Wharton business school professor, discovered that “a culture of caring and compassion had a clear positive influence on the residents, who experienced greater satisfaction, higher quality of life, and more pleasant mood.” If ordinary, authentic human kindness can improve health; imagine the possible ramifications for all kinds of workplaces. American businesses in 2007, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reported a total annual cost in lost work and productivity of $63 billion as a result of lost workdays due to illness. The potential for cheerfulness on the job to be infectious and money- saving seems plausible. Empathy is good for individuals and good for organizations.
Excerpted from It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace by Anne Kreamer Copyright© 2011 by Anne Kreamer. Excerpted by permission of Random House Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.