Labor Day: Loving One’s Job

I Love Job

Most of the research and applications on theories of love center around romantic love.  New research shows that when we are passionate about our work, experience a sense of intimacy with the people at work, and are committed to our organization or work group, we love our job.  And that has huge dividends for leaders.

Do you love your job?  How about your employees? 

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~Confucius

We have all heard the famous quote by Confucius.  But what if there’s more to it than that – simply choosing a job you  love?  Researcher E. Kevin Kelloway, PhD and colleagues report some ground-breaking connections in research between Sternberg’s triangular theory of love and the love of one’s job and happiness.

What they offer could affect the way you look at employee satisfaction, employee engagement, love of the job, and how you lead your team.

On Love and Happiness

Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is.”  ~Sigmund Freud

Our jobs are a central part of our lives and directly influence our happiness and well-being.  Sigmund Freud’s view was  lieben und arbeiten — to love and to work — what a “normal” person should be able to perform well in order to be happy.

Positive psychologists and happiness researchers agree with the basic tent; only adding  the element of ‘health’ to form the well-accepted tripartite understanding of happiness and well-being:  health, love, and work.

In The Optimum Level of Well-Being, eminent happiness researcher, Ed Deiner, PhD, and colleagues report on the work domain that “work dissatisfaction predicted job turnover.”

In a powerful meta-analysis of 225 papers on various outcomes in the domains of work, love, and health,  Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD of the University of California and colleagues found that, in all three domains, happy people tended to do better on average than unhappy people did in almost every way measured.

When those you lead love their jobs and are happy, it not only helps you with turnover (and other positive outcomes), they will, on average, simply do better in all areas of their lives.  When you help people love their jobs, you help them become happier – and when you help them become happier, you help them become more successful in life.

So, how can we better conceptualize such an enigmatic concept as ‘loving one’s job’?

A Triangular Theory of Love

There are three components to love that can be expressed in the form of a triangle:  intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment. “

Just about anyone who has taken an Introduction to Psychology course has probably heard about Robert Sternberg and his triangular theory of love.  It posits that there are three components to love that can be expressed in the form of a triangle:  intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment.

Any relationship can be described by the depth or intensity of each of the components or three vertices of the triangle.  For example, nonlove or casual day-to-day encounters are low in all three components.  There isn’t much intimacy, passion, or commitment with the sales clerk ringing up the groceries or the barrister at Starbucks.

In 2010, the prolific Canadian researcher, professor, and Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health Psychology at Saint Mary’s University, E. Kevin Kelloway, PhD and colleagues, offered some ground-breaking connections between Sternberg’s triangular theory of love and the love of one’s job and happiness.

DNA of Loving Your Job

Passion for Work

Passion for work is the first vertex.  High passion for work is thought of as the excitement, enthusiasm, and personal rewards and fulfillment from the actual job performed.  It goes beyond job satisfaction – simply being content or satisfied with one’s job.  When passionate about our work, we find our work important.

There is meaning to it and we’re excited and enthusiastic about it.  Therefore, there is an element of longing or desire to do it.  Performing our job feels good.

Healthy Work Relationships

The second vertex of loving one’s job, intimacy, is defined by healthy, high-quality relationships at work.  A powerful aspect of intimacy is that it promotes a desire to enhance someone else’s welfare and well-being.  When that is mutually shared, positive feelings of trust, partnership, and teamwork grow and are reinforced.

As the leader, you set the tone and quality of relationships.

You are looked to for the group rules – what will and won’t be tolerated.

Affective Commitment

Affective commitment is an emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.  You want to be there as opposed to having to be there.  Affectively committed employees have a sense of belonging to the organization – they feel like they are part of the team and make a difference.

Because of this, they are willing to apply themselves toward organizational goals making them valued employees.

You can look at affective committment as employee engagement on steroids.

Dividends of Loving Your Work

But not only is loving your work not frivolous, it actually pays huge dividends in your life.  And many of them aren’t even work-related.” ~Curt Rosengren

When Curt Rosengren wrote  Why Loving Your Work Matters for U.S.News & World Report, he hit the nail on the head.  However, the research teased out some very specific dividends to loving your work:

  • Reduced turnover
  • Increased group cohesion
  • Positive workplace behaviors
  • Better attendance
  • Greater  job performance
  • Boosted productivity
  • Higher well-being/happiness

How do you foster passion for the job with your direct reports?  How do you foster and nurture relationships?  What do you do to increase organizational/affective committment?  If you love (or hate) your job, how do the three vertices of the triangular theory of loving one’s job ring with you?  What examples can you share that demonstrate the triangular theory of loving one’s job?


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Alan Mikolaj is Author and Lecturer at A Travel Guide to Leadership Training

He helps clients become happier, more successful, and to become the better leaders
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