• February 2011

Is Love a Non Sequitur in the Business World?

By Dr. Alice Waagen
Founder and President
Workforce Learning

Love is not a word I hear often in the world of work. Quite frankly, the use of the word “love” in an office setting might send folks running to HR worried about the demon bugaboo — sexual harassment.

So, is the concept of love limited to the non-work part of our lives?

I find that a pretty bleak prospect when you consider the hours of every day that most of us spend in the work setting. Given that February is the month of hearts and flowers, I went like a bloodhound on a scent to my business library to investigate the potential for “love” at work.

Although I found scant evidence of the L-word itself, I discovered that indeed affection and endearment are parts of a happy and healthy work environment.

Here is some of that evidence:

  • In First Break All the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman introduce the Gallup Corporation’s Q12 survey of employee engagement and satisfaction. It is based on what they have determined to be the 12 core elements, including: “Do you have a best friend at work.” Why is this so critical for engagement? Because a best friend serves as a confidante, a trusted advisor, someone who will listen to you vent, and cover your back when you need it. I love this advice because, as many of us know, having warm, trusting relationships is critical to feeling happy and secure on the job. It is validating to have this confirmed by the Gallup research.

• In their book, The Enthusiastic Employee, authors David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer distilled years of research about what makes for high employee morale and motivation into three primary drivers: equity, achievement, and camaraderie. Camaraderie, they explain, is warm, interesting, and cooperative relations with others in the workplace. Like the Gallup research, they’ve determined that the strength of relationships in the workplace is the ultimate bond that not only makes employees want to stick with the company, but also boosts productivity and performance. Just listen the next time you are in the break room and you hear someone say, “My work is pretty dull, but I love the people I work with,” or “This job does not pay what it should, but I love my boss.” More evidence that the L-word does crop up in good companies.

• Last but not least, consider the research provided in the latest book from New York Times bestselling author Daniel H. Pink: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. As a fan of all of Pink’s books, I am particularly struck by this one, in which he discusses human motivation. The three drivers that he identifies are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In fact, having a sense of purpose, Pink explains, is doing work that supports causes greater than the self. In my work in the nonprofit world, this factor is most pronounced. People love what they do not so much for the job itself but for they support they give to a mission that they believe in, and that keeps them motivated through thick and thin.

So, does love have a place at work?

Absolutely. Love of mission or purpose and love of the people I work with makes me want to get up every morning and give it my best.

Business leaders who get this find ways to grow and support affection and affiliation. They celebrate the social dimension at work and find ways to recognize and reward healthy relationships.

Although you may never hear the “L-word” uttered out loud, it is alive and thriving in great places to work. Is it true of your workplace? If so, let me know: alice@workforcelearning.com.


About Alice Waagen

Alice Waagen, Ph.D., is president and founder of Workforce Learning LLC, a leadership development company she founded in 1997. In the past three years alone, more than 125 leaders from 24 organizations have graduated from Dr. Waagen’s unique leadership-development workshop series. Learn more about her work at www.workforcelearning.com.

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