Valentine's Day and Business

February is the “month of love” for most retailers, advertisers, and many other businesses. Last year, estimates from the National Retail Federation expected total Valentine’s Day spending to reach $16.9 billion. For the entire current year, even with the economy slowing down, there is an expectation for a conservative 3.5% growth in retail sales. We see a smörgåsbord of jewels, flowers, chocolate boxes, cards, and other “Valentines” that many individuals, young and old exchange to celebrate perhaps our most magnificent emotion. For many of us, these signs of affection and appreciation are reserved for the non-work spheres rather than the workplace—the specter of sexual harassment as a form of discrimination looms large. Still, research on the business world has detected some interesting exceptions.

For instance, the work of Dr. Lisa Maniero suggests that under some circumstances, companies might benefit from having a culture that is open to interpersonal emotional relations. She has been quoted stating that “Much to my surprise, I found people involved in office romance were more interested in their work, more motivated, more energized, more creative, and extra-productive because they didn't want to get criticized by their peers that the romance was causing a falloff in productivity” (Meyer, 1998).

Mariela Dabbah (co-author of The Latino Advantage in the Workplace) also tells us, in a proactive voice: “I think we all know from experience that when we have friends at work we are much more productive and engaged in what we do. In his book ‘Vital Friends,’ Tom Rath talks about the results of an extensive Gallup poll about friendship, life satisfaction and workplace opinions. It is clear from the research that people with at least one best friend at work were 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives. When asked if they would rather have a best friend at work or a 10% pay rise, most people chose to have a friend. So, it may be time to look at encouraging strong personal bonds amongst employees. And Valentine’s Day may be time for all of us to send warm ‘thank you for making my work day more interesting’ cards.

Finally, Cesar Perez (fellow NSHMBA member) recently wrote to me with several very intriguing comments, including one about the stereotypes that we, Hispanics, have to face.

One such stereotype could be related to the fervor that is so easily assumed to be present in Hispanics. We all know how strongly associated in our society are the words “passion” and “Latino.” Latino music, art, culture, and even places evoke beauty, infatuation, energy, and similarly related emotions that are well synthesized by the word “passion.” There might be some returns to this, but the risks might also be high.

For example, a person (Hispanic or not) who is perceived as “passionate” about her job might more easily enter difficult assignments that often lead to faster career progress. By the same token, in some firms, an individual who shows his enthusiasm for a particular project or line of work might be prevented from executing the most strategic parts of the project for fear that he might appear exceedingly anxious or “unprofessional.” Of course, it might be a matter of having an appropriate track record: to the extent that the enthusiastic person has earned a reputation for delivering results, she will probably get the opportunity.

In your experienced as a Hispanic MBA, has showing your “Latin passion” been a disadvantage or an advantage for your career? Why, or how? I invite you to share your anecdotes and insights.

I would also love to hear from you if you have specific examples about the larger issue of stereotypes regarding Latinos. As Cesar stated, “I know this is not unique to Latinos but we seem to be in the news recently so the issues are coming up more frequently.

I look forward to hearing from you on this (or any other business issue that you would like to explore) via email, fax, snail mail or blog --the latter is preferred (just click on the comments link below).