“Love is the most powerful force in business”
What's love git to do with it?
Marcus, your latest book is entitled "Love + Work". From your point of view, what’s love got to do with work?
Well, not always that much so far. Today, there are many people who feel that work is alienating. Worldwide data show that only just under 18 per cent of people say they have the opportunity to play to their strengths at work every day. For them, there is no love at work.
When people say: "I love this product", "I love my manager" or "I love my teacher", they have chosen this very positive emotion because something happened to them when they were dealing with these people or things.
So, if someone is able to play to their strengths and give their best, then you call that love. What is the difference with motivation, passion, commitment or empowerment?
These are all nice words, but they are a completely different category. In studies, people are often asked how strongly they agree with certain experiences on a scale of one to five, with five being strongly agree and one being strongly disagree. When you ask any question, for example, "I know what is expected of me at work", "My manager cares about me as a person" or "I believe in the mission of my company", you are asking this question because you are trying to predict the person's future behaviour. Will he or she be productive? Will he or she stay with the organization? And when you run the data on that, you find that there is no linear relationship between a sentiment expressed at the first time and a behaviour at the second time. It's not like it's a straight line running from bottom left to top right. Rather, it looks like a long, flat line that suddenly rises vertically at the end between the four and the five. Only really strong, positive emotions control behaviour. This also applies to love.
That means, you understand love as a form of very strong agreement?
Love is something that represents a deep and unwavering commitment to the flourishing of a person. When we love something, we come out of it stronger. When people say the word love, the data at least suggests that it is not accidental. When they say: "I love this product", "I love my manager" or "I love my teacher", they have chosen this very positive emotion because something happened to them when they were dealing with these people or things.
Do you observe any cultural differences when it comes to using the word "love" for this kind of emotion?
No. Over the last five years, we have asked people from 27 countries around the world about the sentiment and feelings of employees and customers. And the same rules apply everywhere. Love is not a cultural thing, but a deeply human thing. Love is the quintessence of an extremely positive experience, not an American, Brazilian or Icelandic experience. Of course, there are many different definitions of love. The Greeks knew eight different ones and there are probably eight billion definitions of love aroung the world. But all of us as humans tie the word love with something extremely positive.
Over the last five years, we have asked people from 27 countries around the world about the sentiment and feelings of employees and customers. And the same rules apply everywhere. Love is not a cultural thing, but a deeply human thing.
If you come out of a movie and say, "I really liked that, I enjoyed that or that was interesting" that's very different from saying, "I love that movie." Whether it was a comedy, tragedy or science fiction film, somehow it touched you in a way that makes you feel smarter, wiser or greater.
Love is a deeply human thing
Having this in mind, what do you conclude about how love works in the workplace?
Every day, a person needs things that he or she loves to do. If that is not the case, there is no learning, no creativity, no resilience, no collaboration, no accuracy, no innovation. Loveless innovation, loveless creativity, loveless collaboration are an oxymoron. That is why we as individuals need activities that we love. Not always, but we need them every day. And companies also benefit from this. Love is the most powerful force in business. And it's quite strange that we don't have a strategy for it at all. We have a strategy for artificial intelligence, lean production or cost maximisation. But we don't have a strategy for love.
Every day, a person needs things that he or she loves to do. If that is not the case, there is no learning, no creativity, no resilience, no collaboration, no accuracy, no innovation.
How much of one's job should employees love?
That varies from person to person. But there is a kind of guideline. Interesting research on this comes from the Mayo Clinic, a large, well-respected healthcare organization in the US. Already before the pandemic, the clinic looked at burnout among doctors and nurses, because that's a big issue for them. They interviewed doctors and nurses who were somehow more resilient than others. One of the findings was that they loved at least 20 per cent of their work.
This turns out to be a kind of threshold: If you love more than 20 percent of what you do in your job, you get the best results. You are then much less likely to burn out, quit or missing work hours. When you reach or exceed that threshold, all kinds of good things happen. But it's not like you're twice or three times as resilient if you love 40 per cent or 60 per cent of your work. But if you are below 20 per cent, negative effects come into play.
If you love more than 20 percent of what you do in your job, you get the best results.
To what extent do especially those employees reach this threshold who can choose or shape their own work?
I've spent most of my work over the last 25 years researching what excellent performance looks like in a number of different professions. If you ask people who are really good at their jobs, whether they are doctors, salespeople, engineers or housekeeper, you find that they have all found specific activities that they love to do. And that’s the case with almost any activity, but it's different for each person. For example, if you ask the best housekeepers at Walt Disney World, they don't all love the same things about their job, but they all have some things in their job that they love.
For example, one loves to create straight lines on the carpet and vacuuming herself out of every room to make it look fresh and clean. Someone else loves to lie on the bed and turn on the ceiling fan because that way the guest can see the room. Someone else loves to put on a show for the guests and arrange the children's toys into a little scene every day. Disney, of course, has a set of rules and regulations on how to clean a room. But beyond that, the best housekeepers are always on the lookout for certain activities that they particularly love.
In other words, it's not about finding that dream job that you love?
No, not at all. The idea that you only have to find a job you love to never work another day in your life is not true. There is no data on that at all. Even people who are really good at what they do don't find a job they love all around. But they find love in what they do. That's really doable and important. If you can find that connection, you are so much more creative, productive, resilient, loyal.
Many employees are good at what they do but see their work only as a job. What's wrong with not loving work and seeing it only as a way to earn money?
That's a terrible trade, isn't it? We live in a world where all our experiences are on a continuum: On the far left are exploitative experiences, in the middle there are transactional experiences and on the far right are deeply human experiences. Most of us live and work in the middle. That's not always a bad thing, because that's how the world turns. But it makes us an element of a transactional equation. We all desire something different.
Even people who are really good at what they do don't find a job they love all around. But they find love in what they do
Of course, we have different areas in our lives: Hobbies, friends, family, faith and just our work. But this is not an either-or, a balancing of one against the other. The biggest challenge for us is how to move through all these different areas and be psychologically nourished in the process. But when people don't have activities they love and no one bothers to help and listen to one, they suffer not only themselves but also those they interact with at home or among friends. Because all empirical data shows that they are then psychologically damaged. That is unhealthy.
You say that love is important for innovation. How do you explain that? For all the complex challenges, such as climate change, it often takes things that are not necessarily fun and can be exhausting. And if we really love something, we don't want to change it, do we?
It always depends on the circumstances. It's interesting that brain chemistry changes in measurable ways when we are in love with another person. You have higher levels of oxytocin, higher levels of norepinephrine, which plays an important role in stress reduction. In addition, there is a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which brings feeling of awe and wonder. You have a certain cocktail of hormones that increases and gives you a feeling of love.
This can stimulate the neocortex, the part of the cerebral cortex responsible for higher cognitive functions such as language, thinking, planning and problem solving, but it can also deregulate it. And that opens your mind to new ideas, new information, new connections, new configurations. That's why love and creativity so often work together. When we think of music, of sports, of writing, of art, it's immediately obvious to us. But companies should also be interested in this relationship between love and creativity – at least if they are serious about promoting innovation.
The more love, the more innovativeness
What reactions do you get from leaders when you say that they need a strategy for love at work?
Well, the first response is that we live in a capitalist world. They think they can't always afford love - when they have to criticise or fire people, for example. There is a lot of pushback. Managers think love is unruly, wild, chaotic. And they don't want that. They want rigour and rituals of clear and cost-efficient process management. They want discipline. Work has to be hard and structured in their eyes.
Companies should be interested in this relationship between love and creativity – at least if they are serious about promoting innovation.
But when I make it clear to them that this will create more productivity, innovation and resilience, they are already curious and ask how they could create more loving experiences.
And how can leaders create more loving experiences at work?
They should create loving experiences at every touchpoint employees have with the company. The best way to start is to ask people what they really love about their work. Because you really have to explore what those loving aspects are for them – and therefore who they really are. It is about looking at when, how and why a loving experience happens. This is not expensive. But you have to really want it. One will not achieve any of the desired results if one is not serious about it. Only then can you create the right conditions.
Do you have a concrete example of this from a company?
The sporting goods manufacturer Lululemon does one thing really well: if you go into any Lululemon store, there are lots of photos of ex-employees hanging on the wall. It's a loving idea. When someone opens their own yoga studio, or starts their own sports shoe line, or a white water rafting company – these people become ambassadors for the company.
The best way to start is to ask people what they really love about their work. Because you really have to explore what those loving aspects are for them – and therefore who they really are.
Lululemon is saying: We help you achieve your goals and to grow. If you are here, give everything, but if you want to leave, we will celebrate your continued journey. It's a deep and unwavering commitment to the flourishing of human. And that's a tactic of how to achieve that. Elsewhere, most of the time, when you leave a company, you're like dead.
What is the difference between this approach and other cultural initiatives?
The better story to tell is that every company has its own culture and it is reflected in the share price or a charismatic CEO. But that is not the truth. Think about Elon Musk and Tesla. His character does not shape the work experience across the company – it looks very different. Loving experience starts with managers and team leaders – but it doesn't end there. Every single leader is an experience maker.
To what extent can leaders learn loving leadership?
If you want to get people to say I love this and that activity, it's not magic, it's an emotional journey. Of course, there is an inexpressible mystery to love. But you can divide it into a series of feelings. It's a sequence, not a hierarchy. And it can be taught to managers very well.
What are the main feelings involved?
People love something they understand how it works. They want to know what is expected of them at work, what rules they should follow and what their contribution is. So, the first step is to help workers find out what their power is.
People love something they understand how it works. They want to know what is expected of them at work, what rules they should follow and what their contribution is.
The second feeling is emotional harmony. Nurses give painless injections by all saying the same sentence before inserting the needle: "This will hurt a little. I will try and make it hurt as little as I can." By doing this, they show empathy. And by sharing your pain, they make you feel less pain. When you pick people up where they are emotionally, they perceive that as a loving experience.
And significance is the third thing. People want to be seen - not just as representatives of a profession, a field, a certain level, gender, religion or whatever. We also need individuality in a team. We have an ego and want to be perceived in our uniqueness. Ask the best managers in the world how to motivate people and they will all give you the same answer: It depends on the person. One needs to be shouted at, the other need a quiet word in the ear. It's important that managers understand that they can shape all touch points with employees lovingly.
Individuality in teams
Is it possible to lovingly dismiss employees – and if so, how?
Yes, of course you can. You can do it lovingly by saying: Listen, we've been talking every week now, and I keep trying to figure out how I can help you become more effective in this role. But I feel like this is the wrong place for you. You can get people out of a job lovingly, but only if you pay attention to them and their work.
People want to be seen - not just as representatives of a profession, a field, a certain level, gender, religion or whatever. We also need individuality in a team.
How can managers put this into practice and incorporate it into their everyday leadership?
There are many things you can do. The simplest is probably the check-in between manager and employee. Two questions are enough: How was your last week - what did you like and dislike? And: What are you working on this week and how can I help you?
If leaders take just 15 minutes each week to do this, it's better than any performance review at the end of the year, which everyone just hates. Of course, this doesn't work when one leader is responsible for 60 employees. The work structure and design must also be right.
But managers have a lot of requirements that they have to fulfil – be it performance evaluations or talent development within the framework of certain competence models. Would you do away with all that?
Those who pay the right amount of attention to employees do not need a complex competency model, standardised feedback processes or rigid career levels. Because these assume that there is a standard measure of excellence that employees simply have to meet. In reality, however, the best professionals have very different strengths. With loving leadership as I have just described, on the other hand, the complexity lies in the responses and conversations with employees – in other words, in the relationship between people. We have built complexity into the corporate structures in the wrong place.
The best professionals have very different strengths.
As Head of Research People and Performance at ADP Research Institute, you are very data-driven. But to what extent can and should organizations measure love in the workplace?
It's different in every company and every country. But stop with these long employee engagement surveys. These Gallup surveys or benchmarks don't really tell you anything. As a starting point, I would begin by asking all employees about their level of agreement with the statement "I have the opportunity to do something I love every day at work". Then look at how many employees you get full agreement from. You will find that the answers will vary hugely team by team – even in the same department or business unit. You should then also measure and evaluate the work of the managers against these results.