Heart held in hand

Love seems to be a “bad” word to use when discussing all things related to work or organisations or corporate culture. But why? It’s almost as if we are programmed to not discuss the possibility of being kind, caring or loving at the workplace.

Over a lifetime, the average person spends about 90,000 hours at work – if we don’t prioritise workplace happiness and generating positive emotions at work, we are spending all those hours tapping only on our brain and not engaging the heart.

Fear vs Love

One of the reasons why love and other “positive” descriptors are not often used in the work context is because fear has, for a long time, been used as a way to motivate people. While there is some truth and evidence to support the efficacy of this approach, the same research also declares that “fear doesn’t motivate toward constructive action. On the contrary, it nourishes competition within an organisation, fosters short-term thinking, destroys trust, erodes joy and pride in work, stifles innovation and distorts communication” (Ryan and Oestreich, 1998).

In some literature, “building trust” is suggested as a way to reduce fear at the workplace. Dr Lance Secretan (2009), an authority on inspirational leadership and expert on corporate culture, proposes that “love is the psychological, emotional and spiritual opposite of fear”.

“People are motivated byfear, but they are not inspired by it.

Everything that inspires us comes from love.”

– Lance Secretan

The big question then, is how?

Martin Seligman, often called the father of Positive Psychology, developed an evidence-based model to describe the elements of his well-being theory. He used the acronym PERMA to help us understand how to flourish or thrive in life and at work.  PERMA stands for Positive emotions, Engagement (flow), Relationships, Meaning (purpose), and Accomplishment. While each of these five does have a part to play in creating a culture of love and appreciation, I will focus on just two elements – positive emotions and relationships – in exploring ways to build a culture of love at the workplace.

Positive Emotions

Positive emotions are not just happiness and joy. If we start to dig deeper, we can include emotions like satisfaction, gratitude, excitement, pride etc.

Understanding which positive emotions we want to harness at the workplace (or even in the family), we can begin to decide the sorts of values, norms and behaviours we want to promote in order to generate those emotions.

Dr Geil Browning, Founder and CEO of Emergenetics International, has a chapter on “Love: Care for Your People and the Profits Will Come” in her book Work that Works. She shares that in order to build a culture of love, we need to encourage qualities such as presence, gratitude and joy within the workplace. She explains more about leadership and love in her blog article, Care for Your People and the Profits Will Come.

She goes on to explain that if we want to build a culture of love, we have to recognise that people are unique and we each have our own interpretation of what love, gratitude or appreciation means to us.


We can’t discuss positive emotions without discussing relationships, regardless of whether they are work-related or personal relationships. As human beings, we give and receive emotions through relationships.

Building positive relationships require action. Geil Browning reminds us, in the same chapter of her book, that “Love is a Verb”.

Actions though, have to be genuine, and congruent with the values espoused by the organisation (or family) and leaders (or parents). Failing which, the actions, while positive, will only be perceived as superficial.

The Bottom Line

Generating positive emotions and building positive relationships need not involve big actions. In fact, it’s the smaller, day-to-day gestures that count. Do we greet each other? Do we smile? Are we fully present when in conversation with each other? Do we listen? How do we respond to each other? How do we recognise each other’s gifts and strengths? Do we delight each other with little surprises? How do we show our appreciation for one another?

For love to be an effective culture element, we will need to consider whether our “loving actions” are only to please people or do they truly promote positive emotions, help build positive relationships and founded on the values, norms and behaviours that bind us as an organisation (or family).

Concretely, what we need to remember is this – while all of the above are well and good, we’re not merely discussing a warm and fuzzy idea. Whether the situation is work, or family, we need to remember that there are boundaries to maintain and that individuals need to remain accountable to their responsibilities. If done right, the “profits” will follow – monetary or otherwise.

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