When we think of love, scenes from Love Actually and memories of home cooked meals may come to mind. The big, long-awaited embrace upon returning home from being away, or the first bite of a home cooked meal after a long day at work. We may think of the handwritten notes our significant others leave around the house for us to find, or simply a good chat with a true friend with whom we trust with our most vulnerable thoughts and feelings.
Love, however, can also come in the form of a tense work conversation that eases up after someone says “I am frustrated by this conversation because I don’t fully understand this proposal, would you mind explaining it in a different way so that I make sure that I get it?”.
It can also come in the form of saying thank you to a colleague for their contribution to a project, or asking a teammate how they are doing after they seemed unusually quiet during a team call.
These actions at work are typically housed under the labels of trust, healthy communication, effective conflict resolution, and just being nice. They are commonly understood as good workplace practices. Every leadership, management, and organizational behavior resource on the planet refers to some iteration of these practices.
Let’s flip this around. When we think about trust, healthy communication, effective conflict resolution, and being nice in our personal lives, do we not also think of the actions above, the actions we think of when we think of love? Is it possible that we are actually talking about the same things, but we just have fancier business school terms for the actions we practice at work?
In my opinion, there is no difference. The intention behind both is to be considerate of, generous with, and mindful of others. And what is love if it isn’t this?
My invitation to you: let’s re-think these traditional leadership and management concepts as loving workplace actions. Let me walk you through why I think the re-framing is helpful.
When we bring love to work, we break down the false barrier between life and work, therefore enabling us to see work for what it is: a part of our lives. By explicitly expressing and receiving love, a traditionally personal and intimate experience, into the workplace, the “line” between life and work fades. When we talk about work-life balance or distinguish between our personal vs. professional lives, we reaffirm the tendency to separate life and work as though one dimension is truly independent of the other. This is nonsense. Anyone who works knows that when we are having issues at home, we are more likely to act rashly and be distracted at work. Conversely, when we are behind on a work deadline, we are likely to slack off on our commitment to our friends and family members.
These mislabelled “spillovers” remind us that thinking of the two dimensions of our lives as separate is in fact counterproductive, and invite us to consider the benefit of seeing work as a part of life.
When we see work as a part of our lives, we are empowered to design our workplace experience so that it enhances our quality of life. We resist the urge to justify employee wellness programs, generous vacation plans, and organizational healthcare packages with metrics such as employee retention and productivity. While these metrics can be helpful, ultimately they do not reflect our quality of life, which is the goal most have when they join the workforce.
I truly believe that loving well at work will contribute to our collective wellbeing. That is a goal worth striving for.