Rarely do we ever think of the word love in the workplace. While we may talk about "loving our job," or hear someone say, "I love my boss," it's blasphemous to talk about love as a business strategy or management philosophy. In fact, it's downright cringeworthy.

But here's the hard reality we all face: We are in a social economy where the largest working demographic -- Millennials -- value, expect, and thrive under certain love-based concepts of leadership and work culture (which I define below).

When we read about high-octane teams producing and collaborating at the speed of innovation, we see trust, respect, empathy, caring, and transparency as key "loving" behaviors which lead to high-performance.

Before you think I've hijacked Inc.'s publishing platform to wax poetic on some flowery fantasy about the future of work, consider the hard evidence in some rather large, well-known organizations.

Whole Foods Market

John Mackey, CEO of the wildly successful Whole Foods Market, is an evangelist for love at work. He'll be the first to tell you that his work teams only are as effective as the leaders that fully empower them to do their best work. This premise starts with building a foundation of trust, optimizing trust through transparent and authentic communication, and ensuring fairness for all involved. In other words, their leaders know how to love their workers.

Mackey describes several powerful approaches for leveraging love as a business strategy, and it all starts with the mindset of leaders. He states:

The leadership must embody genuine love and care. This cannot be faked. If the leadership doesn't express love and care in their actions, then love and care will not flourish in the organization. As Gandhi said: 'We must be the change that we wish to see in the world.'

We must 'give permission' for love and care to be expressed in the organization. Many organizations are afraid of love and care and force them to remain hidden. Love and care will flow naturally when we give them permission and encourage them.

We should consider the virtues of love and care in all of our leadership promotion decisions. We shouldn't just promote the most competent, but also the most loving and caring leaders. Our organizations need both and we should promote leaders who embody both.

Bright Horizons Family Solutions

Ranked #90 in Fortune's "Best Companies to Work for" list this year (as well as one of the best workplaces for women), Bright Horizons Family Solutions employs over 20,000 people in more than 700 childcare centers in the U.S.

They have crafted what they call their "HEART Principles" -- love-based values that allow for employees to bring their whole selves to work, and where individuality, creativity, and contributions are valued.

Those "love" statements are posted everywhere but, most importantly, lived out daily and often referenced by leaders in presentations or company-wide communications.

Its biggest impact is felt in how they communicate with love -- through openness and authenticity between families and caregivers, and caregivers and their managers, all the way up the line to their authentic senior leaders.

As with any healthy and loving family unit, one of their HEART principles strives to model the same attribute: "We resolve our conflicts within the Bright Horizons family. When we are upset with an individual we do not complain to others; we have the courage to speak to the subject of our concern."

Ilene Serpa, VP of Communications, told Fortune magazine: "It's very important we make Bright Horizons feel like a family for our employees, because that's the feeling we're trying to create for the people we're caring for."

Research Backs Up Love at Work

Love is, of course, a touchy subject that makes executives in many companies nervous largely because traditional leadership theory teaches us to be indifferent to workers. The word "love" strikes a lot of people as the embodiment of weak management, which is largely an ignorant or false perception in the 21st century.

University of North Carolina psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, did an extensive study on human emotions with profound results. In this Fast Company article, she was asked if a person's engagement at work is established and fueled by feelings of love. Here's Fredrickson:

When people are made to feel cared for, nurtured, and growing, that will serve the organization well. Because those feelings drive commitment and loyalty just like it would in any relationship. If you feel uniquely seen, understood, valued and appreciated, then that will hook you into being committed to that team, leader and organization. This is how positive emotions work.


It's up to the rest of us to change the faulty perception that feelings of love in the workplace aren't professional, are too squishy, or its tenets can't be measured. For the analysts, HR professionals and general critics among us, we're not talking about actually measuring feelings; we're talking about measuring the effectiveness of leaders in creating the conditions that will bring out the best in others through actionable love behaviors. When we do that consistently, I believe it will be a game changer for improving every company's employee experience.