Love is a universally good thing, right? It is uplifting and empowering. It makes the impossible possible. It creates harmony.
So why is it that we are so fearful to talk about love at the office? As if, when we conjugate the verb between gray walls and busy cubicles, love is suddenly something inappropriate, counter-productive, even foolish.
Let’s explore love at the office as a good thing for a minute, and before you lift your brow, no, I’m not talking about having a love affair at the office. I am rather suggesting that those who experience care and companionship in their work environment have a sustainable, competitive advantage over those who don’t. (See Using the “L” Word in Business).
Here are four reasons that caring at work could lead to a competitive advantage:
1) Love inspires devotion. For workers to fully commit and devote themselves to the company they work for, they have to love it. Since people get attached to organizations through human bonds, “affective bonds go a long way to secure employee satisfaction and efficiency,” explain Isaac and Ora Prilleltensky (2006) from University of Miami. Employees who are recognized at work report more loyalty and commitment to their organizations than those whose contributions go unnoticed.
2) Good relationships enhance win-win scenarios. Barbara Fredrickson (2005) demonstrated that positive emotions are fertile ground for learning and problem-solving. Laura King and colleagues (2006) also found in a series of studies that positive emotions experienced in a day are a strong and consistent predictor of meaning experienced that day. Martin Seligman (2002) argues that meaning increases resilience and facilitates win-win situations. Good relationships at work, therefore, can enhance both problem-solving and win-win solutions, two strategies that can certainly benefit the workplace.
3) Supportive work environments are a source of productivity. Feeling valued and supported helps individuals cope with stress, which is abundant in the workplace. People who have effective coping abilities also miss fewer days of work. There seem to be a relationship between caring co-workers, lower absenteeism, and higher productivity. In their research, Drs. Prilleltensky show that supportive environments are strong predictors of worker well-being, which in turn correlates with higher productivity. (For more info on this, please see my previous article Measuring What Matters.)
4) Friendship at work can boost organizational performance.
Gallup interviewed over 10 million employees and found that those who agree with the statement “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person” are more productive, contribute to higher profits, and are significantly more likely to stay with the organization long-term. Those who report having not only a friend, but a best friend at work, are 7 times as likely to be fully engaged on the job as those who don’t. In addition to experiencing higher personal engagement, they also foster heightened customer engagement with the brand they represent.
For those of you who are tough-minded devil’s advocates, I’d like to clarify an important point. Friendliness isn’t goofiness, nor is it complacency. We can be focused, thoughtful and friendly at the same time. The opposite of friendliness, on the other hand – behaviors that are cold, shallow, intolerant – leads to distancing, defensiveness, and cognitive dissonance. This type of climate undermines a person’s ability to think outside of the box and motivation to contribute. It can lead to active disengagement, burnout, and even sabotage.
Lee Colan, PhD and author of Passionate Performance, said it right: “When people go to work, they don’t leave their hearts at home.” Most will agree that love is one of the most powerful human motivations. Why not use it productively in the context that occupies most of our waking hours?
Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
Colan, L.J. (2004). Passionate Performance. Dallas, TX: CornerStone Leadership Institute.
Fredrickson, B.L. & Losada, M.F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686.
King, L. A., Hicks, J. A., Krull, J. L., & Del Gaiso, A. K. (2006). Positive affect and the experience of meaning in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(1), 179-196.
Prilleltensky, I. & Prilleltensky, O. (2006). Promoting Well-Being: Linking Personal, Organizational, and Community Change. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Rath, T. & Conchie, B. (2009). Strengths-Based Leadership. New York: Gallup Press.
Sagiv, L. Roccas, S. & Hazan, O. (2004). Value pathways to well-being: healthy values, valued goal attainment, and environmental congruence. In Linley, P. A. & Joseph, S. (Eds.). Positive Psychology in Practice. (pp. 68-85). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Heart and Work Colleagues are images whose rights were acquired by Marie-Josée Salvas for this article’s one-time use.
Well, done, Marie Josee, and very enjoyable reading. Many of my adult clients would say that they have left jobs–even careers–because they do not feel cared about as a person. In a climate of economic doom and gloom, the care and nurturance of employees–as friends–will pay off on the profit line, too. Thanks!
Hi Marie-Jo, I love the quote on not leaving our hearts at home. Your point about getting attached to the organization through human bonds is so important. Thanks for reminding us and thanks for another great article!
You know I’m super interested in the topic of positive psychology at work – what works and what doesn’t. I agree with you. I think caring is one of those (like you and Margaret write – it’s the “L” word), and I think it’s appropriate that it’s not necessarily used at work. However, the underlying concepts are the same.
And I’m especially interested in the link to productivity. Much thanks!
I definitely agree with the idea that people are more productive in an environment where they feel supported. I have had many jobs where I felt very little appreciation, and it takes its toll on your energy level, your self-esteem, and your motivation. If we all had a good friend at work, I think everyone would enjoy their jobs so much more!
Marie-Josee – I suspect love at work might have a few branding issues. In australia when I run workshops I talk about the “someone cares for me question”. I translate it from American into Australian – either someone “gives a damn about me” or “I’ve got a good mate”. Ozzies find that far more palatable.
Any thoughts about branding love for the workplace.
Sherri, Christine and Lindley – thank you for your feedback. I am glad my article echoed your own interests and experiences.
I think this idea of seeing workers and co-workers as full human beings (with all that’s entailed) rather than just as output producers deserves a lot more attention than it’s been given in previous years. As my article pointed out, I really think businesses will benefit as much as individuals.
The more we talk about it, the more we act on it, the more it will become natural, so let’s spread the word.
Senia, Wayne, you both bring up a very interesting point – how to “label” or “brand” care and love at the office so it seems more appropriate in the workplace. Rather than try to force the concept which is already received with sarcasm, finding more compelling language could be a better strategy.
Senia likes the word care, but Wayne points out it doesn’t work well in Australia. On the other hand, “someone gives a damn about me” seems to be somewhat harsh to my Canadian ears and “I’ve got a good mate” makes me think of bedroom activities rather than to workplace-acceptable behaviors!
I’d love to read other people’s thoughts on this. Would there be a universal, culturally sensitive expression to qualify friendship at work? I’ll give it some thought myself and check back a bit later.
Thanks for launching the debate, Senia and Wayne!
I think “comradery” is a good start, but I question its ability to completely encompass the idea we are talking about. It is defined as the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability, but I think the article is trying to delve a bit deeper than that. “Familiarity” and “socaibility” bring to mind merely the idea of being comfortable with co-workers (which is, of course, important in a work environment). Marie-Josee’s article, though, is focused on the concept of love, caring, and relationships- more than the average connection must of us have with the run-of-the mill co-worker.
I will get back to you if I think of any other words…
I agree that a supportive and loving environment at work is important and desirable. But when it’s not, yikes!
I recently wrote a post about how my daughter handled a negative work environment–
Marie-Josee, thank you for another insightful article that prompts a good dialogue — we’re beginning to discuss the undiscussables in the workplace!
In terms of branding the L Word in business, Tom Rath in his latest book, Strengths Based Leadership (https://positivepsychologynews.com/news/margaret-greenberg/200902141542) uses the word “compassion” and managers who “care”.
As we coach people in the workplace maybe we need to get more comfortable using the word LOVE ourselves and just notice what happens when we do. I think we’d be surprised how much it does indeed resonnate with people. Much love, Margaret
Thanks for your input, Margaret. I love discussing the undiscussables in the workplace! There’s a real need for that and it’s time corporate mentalities evolved accordingly.
I’m personally not a huge fan of the word compassion because it seems to only apply when things go wrong, and I think caring is just as appropriate when things go right.
How about companionship? Anybody has thoughts on this one?
On the other hand, maybe you’re right. Maybe we don’t need new labels for old concepts. I tend to think it can be helpful, though. The love we feel for a co-worker is often very different than the love we feel for our friends and family members, isn’t it?
In any case, no matter how we call it, I’m in favor of promoting companionship in the workplace. If anyone can identify a label that can ease the transition, I’m in!
Best to all!