Helena Clayton | This love thing. It’s problematic



This love thing. It’s problematic

17 Sep 2018, Posted by Helena Clayton in Work as Love in Action

75 responses. Some fascinating data. Raising some big questions.

And so, coming up, a job I’m looking forward to… writing up my research from the Leadership and Love survey which has just closed. I’ll post about some of the findings here and, in the meantime, here’s a bit from the first few questions …

While 94% of respondents said they felt love was either very important or important in the workplace, a significant number weren’t comfortable at all about talking about it at work.

5.8% of people said they felt very uncomfortable, and 25% said uncomfortable.

Are you surprised or not at that figure? I don’t think I am surprised given how often people seemed to want to steer me away from doing a piece of research on love, per se, in the first place. Even from friends and colleagues who I knew well, I sensed a slight nervousness. Was that in them — their own lack of ease with explicitly using the term love? Or maybe they didn’t want me to embarrass myself somehow with a topic that was a bit edgy. But generally, people said ‘you don’t mean love, though, do you? You mean compassion or empathy.’. No, I don’t, I mean love. ‘Well, it’s about engagement, I guess’. No, it’s about love, I guess.

You’ll have heard me quote Steve Coogan who said in an interview….’my adage is that the edgiest word to use at the moment isn’t “f**k”,”piss” or “shit”. It’s love. That’s what really makes people’s buttocks clench’. He appears to have a point.

Some data

So what did people say about their discomfort, and not wanting to talk about love at work? Things like:

· that doing so would make me appear weak — and that love is generally viewed as weakness and weakness doesn’t belong in the workplace
· I would be judged and misunderstood
· it feels flaky and unprofessional
· it might undermine what I’m trying to achieve at work
· it’s too personal and intimate for the workplace — it’s ‘over the line’ of what’s acceptable in the workplace
· that the place for love is firmly at home and not work

So a clear theme about how others might judge us and how we might be perceived. And another about how love only belongs in the personal sphere and not in the workplace.


I don’t think that the opposite of love is hate. Well, it is in one sense, for sure. But I think a more meaningful opposite is fear. And I see a lot of fear in the organisations I work in and in the people I work with. Fear of not belonging or of not being liked. Fear of being found out and of getting it wrong. Fear of just being wrong. Of being judged and found wanting. Fear of someone discovering ‘what we’re really like’.

In fact, one colleague I talked to last year about this thought it was more than fear — he thought that many of the people he met were terrified.

It’s one of the reasons I am interested in love because it’s paralysing to be in fear — it shuts down all of our creativity and our ability to connect and reach out, our willingness to take risks. It means we separate ourselves and pull up our drawbridges to protect ourselves. We are so full of cortisol we can’t function as a whole human being. I’m with Marianne Williamson when she says ‘when love is absent, fear steps in’. And no good can come of that, eh.

And fear underpins some of these responses above. That we might be seen as vulnerable and weak for expressing or demonstrating love — or even talking about it. That we will be judged and thought odd and different. And more …that we will be kicked out, sidelined, ostracised, with our power, influence and currency taken away from us. Surely our core fear, that — that we will be abandoned by our tribe. Terrifying, in fact.

And the second from the above responses — that work is just not the place for love (you have to read that in the most sniffy and disapproving tone you can muster, of course 😊). I mean, I do get it — finding that line between what’s appropriate and what’s not. And didn’t Kenneth Williams once says ‘love is the most awful intrusion of privacy’ (something like that). But still.

We see this separation a lot, don’t we? This split between home and work. I was working with a team a couple of years ago and two people who had worked together a long time didn’t know that they each had a 16 year old daughter. How can those human conversations not happen…? How come it takes a team development day for us to start to see each other as more than our job titles? That we’ve come to believe that we need to leave part of ourselves at the door when we come to work — and mostly our emotional life. How come I can’t show you all of who I am? Including my love. What harm must we be doing to ourselves to keep parts of us so walled up from the people we spend most of our working hours with?

Tell me if I’m banging on a bit. But that’s what I mean about there being some big questions. This can’t be right, can it?

Next steps?

I’ll be writing up the full report soon but will regularly post some short articles based on the findings over the next few weeks. To follow soon: how do we define love at work, what does it look like in practice and what could our organisations be like with love at the core.

In the meantime, would you like to talk about these themes and plenty of others with like minded folk? The workshop I’m running in Brighton on Friday 16 November will take this research as the jumping off point for a bold look at what love could bring to your leadership.  It’s part of the wonderful Meaning Conference. And if you can’t make it, please do share this with others who could.

Many thanks, Helena x

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