I’ve been traveling a lot these last two weeks: Visiting New York City and then speaking in Toronto, Los Angeles, and the Pacific Northwest. And everywhere I go I can’t help but talk about The “L” Word. I bring up The “L” Word during informal conversations meeting people on the plane, in pubs and restaurants, on the train, at conferences. I’ll talk about it anywhere.
When people ask what I do, I tell them it’s my job to talk about the “L” word at work, to foster cultures that are comfortable with The “L” Word. My work is especially to bring The “L” Word to public service and to help government organizations craft cultures with The “L” Word at their core.
When I share this one on one, people respond with surprise but also a mixture warmth, happiness, identification, and gratefulness. I’ve never had anyone say it doesn’t belong at work, but instead people one on one seem to universally recognize we need more of The “L” Word. They are drawn to it. They sometimes speculate that in their workplace they’d use another word, because they think it would go over better. Some even share how they have a great place to work because of The “L” Word.
But person to person, people seem to agree that The “L” Word is what we all need and that it would make a difference in their work.
When I am invited speak to groups as I did these last two weeks, the response to The “L” Word is also universal.
No one moves.
No one looks around the room even.
No one wants to be caught making eye contact with a colleague when I mention The “L” Word. I can almost hear people asking themselves, “Did she really just say The ‘L’ Word?”
I let the silence hold for a long, juicy moment before simply observing that it got very quiet in the room.
Nervous chuckles break the tension. People squirm a little. Take deep breaths.
And I tell them that yes, in fact we are going to talk about The “L” Word.
We are going to talk about Love.
And we do. We talk about how important Love is to create a safe and human-centered workplace that works for people -- for team members, for customers, for the communities we work in. We talk about what happens when fear is present instead of love and all the harm that is done. This harm is real for people. They've experienced it and witnessed it. The most potent evidence today is #metoo. People are no longer tolerating a fearful workplace; they are demanding a safe, respectful workplace.
After a talk is done, people reach out to me. They thank me for saying The "L" Word. Both men and women quietly let me know how much they appreciate Love being brought into the workplace. They tell me we need more Love and that they are tired of fear and indifference. They want a more human workplace.
It is striking to me that as human beings we are hardwired for Love, empathy, and human connection. We need to know that we are safe and that we belong. We perform best in these conditions.
One on one we will easily talk about and embrace the idea of a more loving workplace, but collectively we are frozen to the notion of Love at work. For generations now, we’ve worked in organizations contorted in a frozen state where we fear Love. How ironic! We are afraid of Love; we are afraid of the very thing we need most to be our best as individuals and as teams.
You see, when we feel loved, when we know that we belong, that we are seen, that our leader cares about us, that we matter to our team, then we can bring our best to work. We take risks and share ideas. We tap into our empathy to design better products and services. We point out problems and help solve them. We discuss failure and learn from it. With love, we do our best work. We all want that.
It’s time to thaw out the workplace. To make work more human. To welcome Love not just in quiet one on one conversations, but to collectively welcome Love as a norm and a core value in our organizations, our teams, and our daily work lives.
It starts with saying The “L” Word.
How does Love figure into you your workplace? How does Love impact you and your team? Does it feel risky to introduce Love at work? Why?