Love at Work

On New Year’s Day, my husband and I spent time journaling with questions that spurred us to reflect back on 2011 and look ahead to 2012. Afterward we shared our responses with one another and listened deeply for themes that emerged. For me, the theme that jumped out was “love.”

love“How can I ensure that those around me feel loved and delighted in?” I mused. Especially during the work day, I’m often so task–focused that I can forget that the person in front of me is a human to be loved, not a means to the end I am pursuing. Furthermore, much of my work is on the phone or by email. “Can I convey love and delight by phone and email?” I wondered. To make my intention specific, I wrote:  “Three mornings a week, those with whom I interact will feel loved and valued by me.” I thought I could experiment with love at work three mornings a week (I’m a morning person, after all, and at my best in the early part of the day), even if I couldn’t achieve it all the time!

Most of us work in cultures that tell us to guard our hearts at work. “Don’t show emotions. Don’t fall in love with a colleague. Check your heart at the door.” We receive messages like this regularly. While those messages do contain some truth and can protect us from the kind of soap opera affairs that damage working relationships and harm homes, they can also cause us to operate from a foundation of fear. When we guard our hearts too much, we lose the ability to form appropriate heart connections with our co–workers and customers. We come across as cold and unfeeling.

Southwest Airlines addresses this challenge by encouraging employees to bring their hearts to work. “Fun,” “humor,” and “love” all figure in Southwest Airlines’ vocabulary. One writer calls the secret of Southwest’s success the power of “relational competence.” Simple to understand but not easy to live, relational competence requires both training and ongoing sustenance. Being caring toward fellow employees and customers is simple to understand but not easy to do in the relentless daily pressures of running an airline. It is because of these pressures that Southwest hires people who are already caring people with a good sense of humor and then trains them to be even better at those skills.

In supervision, for example, Southwest Airlines employees learn to convey love and caring toward their direct reports. Rita Bailey, former director of the University for People at Southwest, challenged supervisors who were giving performance reviews to attend to the emotions being communicated:

How would you like the person to feel? Are you doing this because the company says you have to fill out a performance appraisal every six months, or are you doing this because you really want this person to have everything they need to succeed?

Ensuring that the employee felt valued, Bailey stressed, made supervision more likely to be successful.

So how am I myself doing? Today, on Valentine’s Day and six weeks after articulating my intention to offer love at work, I’m taking stock. To my chagrin, I’m realizing I did better the first three weeks of the year than these past three weeks. I’ve already lost the clear focus I had at the beginning. And I’m not receiving the delighted feedback I received from clients and colleagues that I received at the beginning. Valentine’s Day, for me, is an opportunity to begin again.

Practicing love at work takes time, patience, and beginning again (and again and again). May we all learn to open our hearts to one another so that we can be our best selves at work and harness the power of joy, delight, fun, and love in our workplaces.

(Part of this article, the Southwest Airlines segment, is drawn from Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations. Used with permission of the publisher.)

20 Responses to “Love at Work”

  1. 1 Katya Taylor February 14, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    margaret, thank you for this poignant journaling exercise and how it’s evolved since you made your “love vows” to appreciate people at work.
    i journal with tom (who also took the tallahassee workshop) on special
    occasions (like today, our 25th wedding anniversary as well as valentine’s day) and we also write poems to commemorate birthdays and other
    important events. writing is such a boon to share with loved ones and colleagues (and of course in writing workshops). thank you for your
    sweet sincerity. i appreciate you!!!

  2. 3 Nicolette Wellington February 15, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Margaret, I notice that I’m not the first one to notice that there is something very moving about your sharing of your personal practice with your husband that carries that sense of love and trust into your day, dealing with people in the workplace and wider world.
    As I think about people who work for airlines or professions where you deal with large numbers of people every day, these interactions become increasingly more challenging. Exhaustion tests our limits as well.
    Thank you for the openness of this reflection. It reinforces that the love and candor of relationships with those closest to us invites a ripple effect into the wider world.

  3. 5 Morris boyer February 15, 2012 at 1:45 am


    Your thoghts & ideas are cleaarly expressed. I enjoyed this piece of writing.

    Nina & I hope this is the year we connect with you.. We plan to drive back east after school gets out.



  4. 7 Jane Taylor February 15, 2012 at 11:59 am

    This makes me glad, although I had not thought of it that way, that I was/am in the teaching profession, where loving what you do and who you work with is essential and validated. My grandchildren go to the same school, one has a teacher who clearly loves the children and her job, the other one I have never seen even smile. Guess which child does the best and most loves school?! I had a principal once who said, above all else, let the parents know you love their child. He was right! Thanks for this article.

    • 8 executivesoulblog February 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks for this excellent example of love in teaching, Jane. It is so clear that love is what makes the difference in successful teaching and learning. While it may not be as obvious in other professions, I think that the same principles apply. People are people, after all, whether young or old. We all want to be loved and valued.

  5. 9 Marie Bankuti February 15, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Great post, Margaret… thanks for sharing! A great challenge for yourself and for all of us.

    Much of my work now with my corporate clients is around (if not actually labeled “love”) bringing yourself, your humanness, your desire for connection with others to work with you… and sharing just that. I have all my clients read Leadership & Self Deception, and it opens up the richest of conversations about their work relationships… in the coaching, and between them and their colleagues.

    You’ve inspired me to challenge some of them to experiment with making their colleagues feel loved and delighted!

    Keep up the great work!
    Much love, Marie

  6. 10 executivesoulblog February 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks, Marie. What wonderful work you are doing in the corporate world! Having your clients read Leadership and Self Deception is a brilliant idea.

    You keep up the great work, as well!

    Much love,

  7. 11 Lisa D. February 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Oh the power of ‘sharing…’ Marie posted this on LinkedIN and now I get to see it! Margaret, I LOVE what you wrote and am DELIGHTED having read it. I know that for many LOVE seems a big word AT WORK. AND replace that with whatever ‘feels’ right and your practice – shared – can make the places we spend A LOT of time so much more connected. Thanks for sharing your words and passion.

    • 12 Jan Zeller February 15, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Margaret, Your reflections touched me deeply and reminded me of a poem by Galway Kinnell, noted in a number of Richard Rohr’s writings, about “re-teaching others ther loveliness.” I cannot imagine a better way of doing that than considering how we can convey love to and delight in others in our lives! Thanks, Jan

      • 13 executivesoulblog February 15, 2012 at 6:19 pm

        Jan, thank you for this wonderful quotation! I want to practice “re-teaching others their loveliness.” It’s another helpful perspective on this theme.

        Blessings on your good work.

    • 14 executivesoulblog February 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Thank you so much, Lisa. Your words DELIGHTED me. All the best to you and your good work.

  8. 15 Frances Moore February 16, 2012 at 12:31 am

    Thanks, Margaret. This brings to mind an email I got from a student at the end of a long day. Ii was signed “Love, Melanie”. I had to chuckle. I wrote back that “a ‘Love’ sign-off isn’t what is expected professionally when students write to pharmacy professors, but I will tell you that I love you too!”

    You may remember my sister Ellen and me from the Bahamas a few years back. I’m thrilled to report that Ellen had an eye operation yesterday that restored decent sight in her only ‘seeing’ eye! It’s like a new life for her!

    Frances Moore – Bellevue NE –now retired from Creighton U

    • 16 executivesoulblog February 16, 2012 at 2:20 am

      What a sweet story of your student sending you love, Fran (and of you sending her love back — something not all pharmacy profs would do!).

      I’m delighted to hear that Ellen’s eye operation was so successful! Please give her my best wishes for a speedy recovery, and for many enjoyable activities in her new life.

  9. 17 Elaine S. Gaetani February 16, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Greetings of Love Dear Margaret, I love how you and your husband spent Valentine’s day writing! What a great idea! This is exactly what they encourage couples to do in the Marriage Encounter workshops, I, for one, have never felt anything but the pure love of God and love of people coming from you…… is in the very twinkle of your eye.
    We have had a long practice during our church staff meetings that was started by our former Senior pastor, and that is to “check in” with one another at the start of every meeting……and to truly share….and then pray for one another. His tradition lives on and we have continued with this practice during many transitions. Work and Love are not mutually exclusive, indeed! Blessings to you and yours, Elaine Gaetani

  10. 19 Sharon February 21, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Well gosh Margaret, I thought you treated me with lots of agape!!! You’re doing great!
    Love, Sharon

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