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Hugs in the workplace lead to greater empathy

How often do you get hugged at work? How often do you give them?

Paul Zak, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA, is conducting a study that shows that Oxytocin, the chemical released by hugs and many other positive interpersonal interactions, increases empathy and strengthens bonds in the workplace.

From “Will Oxytocin Keep the Virtual Office Humming?

Mr. Zak gives a lot more hugs than most economists. That is because he has made a specialty of studying the social role of oxytocin, a neurochemical once associated with sex that he says is also critical to trust, empathy and family-like bonds. Oxytocin both fosters and feeds on those behaviors, and can also be created by surmountable challenges, dancing, singing, meditation or marching in a group.

It is also created by hugs, which is why Mr. Zak likes giving them to strangers. The economist’s studies tell him that oxytocin is produced in high-performing workplaces. “The classic way to get people to do what you want is fear, but people acclimate to that,” he says. “If you want to keep people on task all the time, you want oxytocin-producing situations.”

The leadership traits he has identified to produce this include praise, given unexpectedly and in public; transparency in identifying tasks and setting goals; authenticity; effective delegation of work; empathy to others’ situations; anticipation of challenges; and autonomy.

And what if your team is distributed and works remotely? The key is to communicate to one another why we’re doing something, to create a shared sense of purpose and responsibility. It activates the same part of the brain.

Read the full article on The New York Times Bits Blog.

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