A question has been on my mind for the last few weeks:
Can love exist in the workplace? Should it?
I’m not talking about romantic love. You can talk to your HR manager about that policy! I’m talking about non-romantic, non-sexual, purely platonic love. The kind of love that you feel for close friends. The kind of love that you feel when someone makes your whole body smile. This love is a mutual deep caring for each other.
Recently I was reflecting on a previous relationship with a boss. We had built a powerful connection over six years, not just through our work together, but through our intensive coaching training. For those of you who don’t know, coaching training is raw, vulnerable, and uncomfortable as hell. We were headed back to the office after such an intense weekend and I remember she mentioned that she keeps friendship separate from work. This struck me, because here we were after weekends of deep and often difficult explorations. We had shared so much and yet there was a need for emotional detachment (or at least the labels).
If you break down where you spend the majority of your life, you’ll probably find work ranks very high. It’s a very real possibility you spend more time with your coworkers than your spouse.
So, why can’t love exist there? Why do we separate emotion from the workplace? We are naturally emotional characters, but we expel a lot of energy making sure we remove emotion from workplace interactions.
This had me bothered. I couldn’t pin down why exactly the phenomenon had been a long standing unspoken rule. You don’t have friends at work, which means you certainly don’t love at work.
I think I’ve pinpointed a large reason why love and work don’t coincide. We are protecting ourselves. As a leader or manager, we are building our relationships on a negative assumption. What if we have to fire or reprimand someone? And if we have a loving friendship, how will that go? It’s no wonder love cannot thrive in a low trust environment. Having the thought, “I can’t share that I care for you because I might have to fire you,” is quite an unproductive foundation for a team.
Let me backtrack for a moment. I am fully aware that blurting out, “I love you,” to a coworker is not for every person or every workplace. I am fully aware that these are powerful words and a big phrase. It’s not uncommon for the SNoW Co. team to say “I love you.” But I also recognize we are a small team in a unique environment. However, there are ways to have love in the workplace and express this without mentioning those three big words.
“I hear “I love you” in phrases like “I couldn’t do this without you”, “thank you for making my job easier” and “You help keep me sane.”
“I also see love in things like wildly decorated offices for birthdays, for spending 50 hours during a tough week together and still wanting to do drinks after work and for flowers waiting on your desk after you’ve had a miscarriage.”
I also appreciated Christian’s response:
“A former teammate would randomly say to the rest of us “Have I ever told you how much I appreciate working with professionals such as yourselves?” Over time this became a team motto. We used sincerely and it grew our friendship, and we used it with sarcasm to defuse frustrations.”
And lastly, T’s response really hit the nail on the head about why love can, and should, exist in leadership:
“Love is key to good leadership. I always just say, “I love you in an HR OK sorta way.” Love for fellow humans is fundamental to healthy relationships. It has different forms – clearly love for friends, family are different than love for my wife but it’s no less love.”
I will also be fully transparent and note there were quite a few comments of people saying they would never say “I love you” in the workplace. But their reasoning was valid. Perhaps they didn’t have a deep enough relationship with their coworkers or that was simply not what they were comfortable with.
There is no wrong or right answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this email. But I do challenge you to think about why your gut reaction was to say “yes” or “no” when you first read it.
My conclusion is that love already exists in the workplace. And it can be shown and verbalized in so many ways. And the recipient of that love will feel it. I think you can respect the loving relationship and respect the workplace roles. These aren’t mutually exclusive.
How do you see love expressed in your workplace? How do you wish it could look and feel?
I hope this opened up a vault of curiosity for you. I hope you find some shotgun riders to share their perspectives. Pass on this blog and start a conversation!