In a Workshop in Barcelona


This word surprised the group of 30 people from the Lean construction community gathered for a workshop at the Catalonia Institute for Construction Technology (iTeC) in Barcelona where I was on holiday.

“Amor.” A ripple of smiles and happy murmurs moved through the room when I said the answer to fear at work is love.

 “Amor” surprised this group just as the word “Love” has surprised people in Toronto, Los Angeles, New Brunswick, Harrisburg, Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma, Nashville, and Ottawa. Just as it keeps surprising people from around the world listening to podcasts and reading blog posts. I hear from people daily with an honest mixture of gratefulness, surprise, curiosity, hope, and uncertainty.

These Catalonians listened with openness as I described the response of the human brain and body to fear (“fight or flight”, and over the long term illness and damage) and to love (“rest and digest”, and over the long term health and repair.) They were attentive and moved as I shared the themes and stories from my research describing the terrible cost of fear and the immense benefits of love to individuals, teams, organizations and the people they serve. They were challenged as I advocated that love and safety are essential for a Lean management system. And they were candid in asking hard questions and exploring concerns about how that word, amor, would play in their industry, the construction industry.

Our dialogue revealed that fear at work is a real thing for them. And while it is easy to talk about that fear, like most people I’ve met, it is more difficult to even consider talking about love at work.

When asked, “Qué le asusta a la gente en el trabajo?” “What scares people at work?” my friends in Barcelona listed the same things I’ve heard everywhere I go: Fear of change, fear of not meeting expectations, fear of failure, fear of mistakes, fear of low performance, fear of losing a job.

And when I asked them to turn to a partner and, “Describa un momento en que se sintió amado en el trabajo,” that is, “Describe a time when you felt loved at work,” the thirty people gathered turned to each other, and the room jumped to life with animated stories of love at work, that is, stories of respect, care, trust, inclusion, empathy, kindness, and so on.

It was beautiful to watch. Though I couldn’t understand the words they were speaking, their body language and facial expressions needed no translation.

All over the world, we long for the same things: For both psychological and physical safety at work. We long to know we are cared about by our team mates and leaders of the organizations where we spend most of our lives. We long to have enough trust and sense of belonging that we can offer a breakthrough idea or point out a problem without risk of retribution. We long to be included as an individual with a unique perspective. We long to be valued for our contributions.

And yet, the idea of love belonging at work causes hesitation and concern. Universally we seem conditioned to compartmentalize “love” as something that is only a personal experience. But actually we experience and express love in every venue of our lives, at work, at home, on the bus, on the street corner, in the coffee shop, at the gym, at school, at a gathering of friends. The forms it takes are different in each venue, certainly, but the core of love is the same.

And the more I talk with people in different places and industries, the more I become convinced that we can and must reclaim love for work. Rather than a loving workplace being a radical idea, love is a normal and necessary experience for humans everywhere, in every kind of job, in all facets of life, including in every workplace…

…in Washington State, in Barcelona, and everywhere I go.