Do I have to say "love"?

Using the word “love” about work is surprising and even shocking to most people.

When I use the “L” word when I speak or teach, it is what my colleague Darrell calls a mic drop moment.

“Love.” Boom!

Then silence. Dead silence. Perhaps followed by nervous laughter.

But that’s also where the really important exploration begins.

The word “love” creates a disruption. That disruption opens up space to reflect on how we experience the workplace and how we serve customers. The space gives us the chance to ask ourselves if we feel safe enough at work to tell the truth about our performance, point out problems, navigate change, welcome different voices and perspectives, suggest new solutions, express a desire to learn, try a new skill, or accept a challenging stretch assignment? In short do we feel safe enough to do the things that create value for customers and satisfaction for ourselves? Or not?

In the space created by the shock of the word love, I ask people to reflect on our shared human experiences with threats that create fear and with love that creates safety. Threat conditions that induce fear can take the form of indifference, rejection, harassment, belittling, uncertainty, betrayal, and isolation. Love can look like trust, belonging, care, respect, inclusion, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. We have common biological, neuro-physiological, and psychological fear responses to threats and safety responses to love.

When I interview people for my research, their stories of times when they felt afraid at work and times when they felt loved at work describe these responses. When I speak to people informally, literally everywhere I go, those stories do too. And a compelling body of research from esteemed social scientists sheds light on various aspects of performance in psychologically safe and fundamentally loving workplaces. These include Amy Edmondson’s ground-breaking work on psychological safety at Harvard, Emma Seppala’s inspiring work on compassion and happiness at Stanford, Kim Cameron’s work on positive organizational scholarship and generative organizations at the University of Michigan, Adam Grant’s work on generosity and helping at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Amy Cuddy’s work on prejudice, stereotyping, non-verbal behavior and performance under stress at Harvard.

The idea of more love and less fear at work cannot remain a concept. Love must be put in action, but people often wonder what that means? Basic principles for teams and leaders offer guidance. Teams can demonstrate value for each other, invest in building relationships, actively create trust and belonging, and work through challenges. Leaders can demonstrate respect, humility, integrity and intentionally create both physical and psychological safety.

But beyond these basics, we each face unique challenges that require us to make choices about putting either love in action or fear in action. We each must determine how we will handle the myriad situations we encounter. What will we do when facing a budget cut, poor employee performance, a conflict with a colleague, an overwhelming workload, a team member’s mistake, or a new hire coming on board at a very busy time? How will we put love in action in light of our organizational culture, our field, and our team? The specifics may look different for a buildings and grounds team, or a Finance team, or an HR team for example.

Ultimately using the word “love” is not what’s important. What is important is that we come to understand the necessity of decreasing fear and creating a positive, caring workplace where team members can thrive, and that we then intentionally act on that understanding each day.

As I work with organizations, teams and leadership groups, they face choices about “love,” both the word and the actions. It is my job to bring that choice to them. It is their job to pause and consider what they will do to love.

Organizations and teams choose the words that resonate for them. Sometimes that word is “love” and sometimes it is a synonym like care, trust, respect, belonging, inclusion, empathy, compassion, or forgiveness, but always it is more human.

Can we talk?

Can we talk?

Arguably one of the most difficult issues we face as a nation is race. We struggle to talk about these challenges, and we struggle even more to work through them effectively. So I was surprised to learn abut a team at the Department of Enterprise Services who had a risky and potentially difficult discussion about race and implicit bias that was effective, respectful and team strengthening. I wanted to learn more…

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

I had the chance to hear Michaela Beals and Josh Calvert present the content of this post at a Results Review to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee along with state agency leaders. I was impressed by the way they connected the State's Employee Engagement Survey results with practical insights into human motivation and an effective human-centered workplace. Thanks to Michaela and Josh for sharing their work here with the community of A Human Workplace. -Renée

Why do you work? What’s your motivation?

Many people work in environments that are dominated by the “carrot and stick” approach of extrinsic motivation: do well and you’ll get a reward; do poorly and you’ll get punished.

But decades of research show that external factors are not the best motivators in today’s workplace. Instead, intrinsic motivation—the kind that comes from within—is much more powerful for knowledge work, creative tasks, and complex problem solving, which is what today’s 21st century workforce is all about.

The RAMP Model of Intrinsic Motivators

On Wednesday, May 30, Results Washington hosted a Results Review that brought together employees, agency leaders, and the Governor to talk about the employee experience of working for the State of Washington.

We were invited to the meeting to share information about the RAMP Model (image below), which identifies four intrinsic motivators that are central to employee engagement and the employee experience more generally:

R = Relationships. The desire to be respected and connected to others.

A = Autonomy. The desire to have freedom and discretion in one’s job.

M = Mastery. The desire to improve skills and develop expertise.

P = Purpose. The desire for meaningful work.  

The individual motivators were informed by decades of research summarized by Daniel Pink in the book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

We developed the human-centered RAMP model as a framework to interpret the 2017 Statewide Employee Engagement Survey. By mapping relevant survey questions to the components of the RAMP model, we were able to gain a better understanding of how employees experience relationships, autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work.


Relationships are a basic human need. A need that is just as motivating to satisfy as having food, water, and air. We are all intrinsically motivated to have relationships built on respect, trust, and inclusion.

With a majority of our time typically spent with coworkers, it is vital that our workplaces foster healthy relationships.

A majority of state employees said they are treated with dignity and respect by their supervisor, their agency supports diversity, people in their work group are treated fairly, and the work group has a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.

However, a sizable chunk of employees said those same conditions occurred only occasionally or less.

The state must continue to build on workplace relationships. Leadership can do this by encouraging employees to meet, collaborate and learn from one another.


Autonomy is a powerful intrinsic motivator. It speaks to our desire to have freedom and discretion in our work. Many tend to confuse autonomy with “going it alone”. Rather, it is about having a choice within an interdependent framework.

The state had mixed results with employees feeling they can provide input and offer better ways of doing things. However, both areas are seeing continued improvement.

Satisfaction levels with flexibility, technology, physical space, mobility, and general well-being as a result of the work environment offer mixed results as well. Mobility was the lowest rated out the Work Environment questions.

Mobility, having the opportunity to work remotely from home or other locations, is important to autonomy because it gives a person a sense of freedom in where they can get their work done. Demands for mobility will only continue to rise as our workforce demographics shift with new employees.

Leadership can make great strides in fostering employee autonomy by creating workplace cultures that value the employee voice and bridge trust and accountability between employees and managers.


Mastery is the desire to learn new skills and develop expertise.

We all want to get better at doing things. A sense of progress, not just in our work, but also in our capabilities, contributes to our inner drive to succeed.

From the engagement survey, we can see that most employees say they are able to make good use of their skills at work, but the area where we see room to improve is with employees feeling like they have opportunities at work to learn and grow. This is one of the lower-rated questions in the survey, meaning there is plenty of opportunity to improve, and it’s one of the top- two drivers of job satisfaction in our state, meaning improvements are likely to give you a good bang for your buck.

The takeaway is clear: if we want employees to be engaged and to speak positively about the agency, then we must give them challenging work that makes good use of their existing skills and plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.


The last intrinsic motivator is purpose, defined as the desire for meaningful work. Connecting to a cause larger than yourself can unlock the highest level of motivation of all.

Many employees feel a sense of purpose from their agency’s mission. The good news is that we do very well in the area of employees knowing how their work connects to agency goals – this is actually one of the top-three questions in the survey overall.

Where we see an opportunity is in communicating clear information about changes in the agency. Transparency and clear communication, especially during times of change, are extremely important for employees to stay connected to purpose. Unfortunately, this question ranks in the bottom two overall, despite an impressive increase compared to last year.

So what can leaders do to improve employees’ sense of purpose? In general, help them connect to something larger than themselves. Help them connect their work to values and people, with plenty of communication along the way.

In Closing

Within the context of the employee experience, extrinsic motivation leads to compliance—at best.

Only intrinsic motivation leads to engagement.

This is important, not only for our employees, but also for our customers.

If employees work in environments that promote Relationships, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, they will do great things for the people of Washington.

RAMP Model of Intrinsic motivators.jpg

Most workplaces are not awesome. A little awe can help.

Most workplaces are not awesome. A little awe can help.

Think of a time when you felt a sense of wonder. Perhaps you marveled at the grandeur of a towering mountain. Or maybe you suddenly sensed the vastness of the universe as the Aurora Borealis spiraled across a winter sky. Were you caught off-guard? Did you lose your sense of time but gain a sense of mystery? Did you feel small and deeply connected to something greater than yourself? Then you probably experienced awe. 

Why do we make the workplace so hard on ourselves?

Why do we make the workplace so hard on ourselves?

People are struggling in most workplaces with disengagement, poor well-being, lack of diversity and inclusion, burnout, conflict, bullying and harassment, unethical behavior, poor performance, challenges to creativity, and lack of problem solving.

So what the heck are we doing to ourselves? And wouldn’t it make sense to do something else?

Learning to Weave in Olympia

Learning to Weave in Olympia

My last post described our need to weave together a stronger social fabric that both honors our common humanity and respects and values diversity. At A Human Workplace: Olympia on June 22, we took a first step by exploring and learning about empathy and diversity. Here’s what we did and what happened. But first, what seems most essential.

Weaving our Human Tapestry

Weaving our Human Tapestry

The fabric of our society feels threadbare. A tattered cloth with gaping holes, it barely drapes us nor does it display its full beauty. We wish it were different but we seem to have lost our ability to weave that tapestry. But in truth, we’ve never really mastered that craft in the first place nor has our tapestry ever truly been complete. But where to begin? We need to learn to weave.

Listening from the Heart

Listening from the Heart

It’s hard to concentrate on writing tonight. You see, I’m excited…and nervous. Tomorrow morning more than eighty public servants are gathering from all over government to explore empathy and diversity at the June Human Workplace Meet Up in Olympia.

I’m thrilled and can’t wait to have this conversation with this caring community. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being anxious too. After all the subject of diversity is a challenging one and taps in to some of our most difficult and long-standing social issues. 

Love and Hard Times

Love and Hard Times

This week we lost people who we mostly knew through their work and the impact they had on our lives. Kate Spade’s work clothed us beautifully and gave us self-expression, color, and design in the form of useful objects we enjoyed both practically and aesthetically. Anthony Bourdain’s work inspired us to discover the world and ourselves by meeting people in their neighborhoods, tribes, and homes exploring rituals, traditions, and creativity of food and much more.

Being Human-Centered

A few weeks ago, some 30 public servants gathered in Olympia to explore the question, "What does it really mean to be human-centered?" What follows is a summary of their advice for leaders and teams for how to put humanity at the center of our work ... with a few illustrations thrown in for good measure.

"Let's be human-centered." "Yes!" "Huh?" "Uh oh." "Oh please." "Well duh!"

When you begin to advocate for a more human-centered workplace, you will probably hear a variety of reactions. Some people will be supportive while others will be confused, worried, or skeptical. A supportive reaction certainly feels better. But the other reactions are just as legitimate. And they are important, especially if we are going to practice what we preach and, you know, respect all the humans we work with. Let’s consider some possible reactions and how to respond in ways that are consistent with our human-centered values.

A Love Story About Work: Caring for Cindy During Cancer

“I found out I was diagnosed with cancer at my desk at work one day at 10 a.m. The doctor wanted to see me the very next day and told me to bring someone who wasn’t a family member. I got off the phone and looked around my cubicle. Then I went and told my boss who immediately brought in someone skilled and knowledgeable who sat with me to figure out what I needed to do in the moment. My boss made it clear that nothing at work was important in the grand scheme of things. She made it easy to turn my focus to my health.”

A Love Story About Work: Hayley's Leader Goes the Extra Mile

Hayley’s life had not been easy. Difficult pregnancies, a child with cancer, and her sister’s death had caused people in her life including work to gather around to support her in all kinds of ways. So when I asked her to tell me a story about a time when she felt loved at work, she had many examples.

But the story she told me in my research was, by comparison, silly and minor in her estimation. Still, it is the one she chose to share and speaks to the lasting positive impact a leader can have and the unexpected goodness that can come back to that leader in return.

A Love Story About Work: Carol's Social Services Team

Providing social services to the most vulnerable people in society is a very human endeavor. People often choose this field because they are compassionate and motivated to care for others. But social services can be some of the most physically and emotionally demanding but lowest paid work there is. This makes Carol’s story an especially heart-warming Love Story About Work.

Three Ways to Decrease Fear and Increase Love at Work

No one wakes up in the morning, bounces out of bed, and eagerly declares, “I can’t wait to be ignored today! I hope my work doesn’t matter to anyone. I’m going in early because I’m not making a difference. Since no one cares about my work I am going after solving that really tough problem.”

No one says, “I hope to be humiliated today. When that happens, I really get excited to be at work and I engage more. I am going to do my best work today while I stress about my future. That anxiety helps me focus on the customer and really work to satisfy them.”

Who says that? No one says that.