Love your work? What does that mean?

Labour shortage in some industries, Great Resignation, low engagement, businesses are concerned about not only attracting new employees but also keeping the ones they have.

To this a simple (simplistic?) answer: you have to make them love their work!

Love or be lovable?

Notice the subtle shift in language from engagement to love. Indeed, we can argue that it is not exactly a replacement, that love is the cause and engagement the consequence, but I believe rather in the hypothesis of a clever branding. “Love” sounds better in marketing terms.

And besides, it doesn’t change the main problem which remains exactly the same.

I’ve always been amazed by managers or executives who urge their employees to be engaged. As if it were their fault. The lack of employee engagement was not, in my opinion, a sign of what is now called Quiet Quitting, a voluntary act, but rather the consequence of the fact that the company was not engaging.

Reversal of responsibility.

The same applies to love. Do employees not want to love their work or does the company not know how to make itself loveable?

For me, it’s the second option and I recommend that you read Everyone Wants to Love Their Job by Marylène Delbourg-Delphis.

No one gets up in the morning and says to themselves “I’m going to hate my company”, “I’m going to sabotage the work”, “I’m going to take a back seat” or “I’m going to create a bad atmosphere”. It’s a reaction, often unconscious, to an experienced situation, not a deliberate act.

A job that people love

I was rereading this Harvard Business Review article the other day on the concept of “Love+Work”. Even though I never like excessive terms, and for me “love” is a bit excessive in this context, it lays the foundation for the subject.

The people are the point. Employees, rather than customers or shareholders, are the most important stakeholders in your organization. One size fits one. Each of those employees is a unique person with distinct loves, interests, and skills. In trust we grow. For employees to discover and contribute their loves at work, leaders must explicitly make trust the foundation of all practices and policies.

Again, the term “love” bothers me a bit and it’s pushing a few open doors, but I find a theme that is dear to me: that of personalization, of individualization. It says “one size fits one” and it reminds me that, by analogy with what is often said about the customer, each employee has become a “market of one”. And in his famous Marseille’s speech, didn’t Antoine Riboud talk about the importance of personalization?

And perhaps this is what justifies the term “love”: whatever pleases one person will not please the other. It’s a very personal subject. And this is the challenge in business: a job that pleases is not a job that pleases everyone but the one who does it or would like to do it.

How do you adapt a job, make it “lovable” by the person who does it? And when several people occupy the same function, is it necessary that if each one finally does the same job, each one has nevertheless a tailor-made job?

I reassure you, for the author, if a job contains 20% of the things an individual likes, the game is won. But in my opinion, this is already a lot and to measure this 20%, we have to ask ourselves what people take into account, which perimeter, to say that they like their job or not.

As I said a while ago, the word work has different meanings and scopes depending on the way you ask the question.

That doesn’t prevent me from having a structured approach.

A person who loves his work loves indifferently

  • The company that employs him
  • The work context
  • The people around him
  • The work they do

A lovable company

Let’s start with the first step : the company. What makes a person love a company or not? The reasons are numerous and diverse, sometimes the company can’t change anything and, worse, sometimes we don’t like it for the reasons it would like us to like it.

Its reputation: I may not stay long, but it’s a nice line on my CV and it satisfies my ego to say that I work there
Its products: who wouldn’t want to work for a company whose products you are a fan of (tech, luxury) or that works in an industry you like (travel, luxury etc).
Its social and environmental policy: for some this is a major criterion, for others it doesn’t matter as long as other factors, including pay, are present.
• …
And then a final clarification on the meaning of words: being lovable is not just about what you do but about the impact it has on others.

An appreciable work context

Here we are going to talk about subjects that do not touch the work itself, the production activity, but surround it and are indirectly linked to it. To quote a sentence that illustrates it well: “My job bores me, my manager sucks, but the pay is good and in the long run I have nice possibilities of evolution, I have to be patient”.

  • HR policy: development opportunities, training, pay. Yes, pay. It’s a subject no one likes to talk about, but it’s now the number one criterion for employees in terms of employee experience.
  • The ability to work remotely. And in 2022 at 2 days a week you are not differentiating.
  • Nice, functional offices. And conveniently located.
  • All the little perks that add up.
  • A company that’s not too intrusive. It’s in the DNA of some companies to want to “swallow” their employees’ lives so much that in the end they have no life or friends outside. And others are getting in on the act as new forms of remote or hybrid work are pushing new ones to do the same. Employees are looking for a balance and a life outside of work and the implicit pressure to socialize is resented by many.
  • A digital environment (hardware, software, digital workplace) that is easy to use, efficient, and appealing (especially for the hardware…). Possibility to choose one’s hardware or even BYOD.

Lovable people

Whether you are more or less introverted or solitary, you work with people, you meet people. And whatever we say, they are important. It is often said that you join a company and leave a manager and this is far from being wrong. Studies have also proven that the more a person has a network in a company, the less he wants to leave (as long as these links are not “forced”, see my point on invasive companies).

I use the expression “lovable people” in reference to the subject of this article but in fact everyone is looking for different things. Some people like a family atmosphere, others like a more energetic or even tense atmosphere. Some need friends at work, others are content to have good relationships because their lives are elsewhere and they want to maintain a balance and strict separation.

However, they all agree on one point: no toxic people at work. Colleagues or managers. By the way…this also applies to clients.

A job you love

Here we come to the heart of the matter, the work itself. What is a job that we like, in the productive sense of the term?

• A job that you like. Some people don’t want to become a manager, if you dream of being a developer you might not like to do only testing, some people sign up for a service job and end up doing exclusively commercial work.
• What I would call “People Centric” processes”. Processes that help and support rather than hinder, that are a service and not a burden, whose meaning is understood, that are a means and not an end, on which we can have an impact if necessary.
• A job where you can use and develop the skills you value most.
• Work where you learn as you work.
• Work that you are proud of. Proud to do it, proud of what it produces, proud to talk about it.
• Work that is not routine.
• Work that has meaning. I’m not a fan of this expression, which I think is used a little too much today to mask other problems or as a self-fulfilling prophecy that hopefully allows people to be paid poorly, but if a person does a job that contributes to producing things they like or that has an impact in an area that is important to them, it matters.
In short, a job that pleases without its purpose, its content and its organization. A job that is not an end but a means.

Conclusion: not everyone likes their work in the same way

In front of a work of art I always have difficulty to say “it is beautiful” or “it is horrible”. I prefer to say that I like it or that I don’t like it because everything is a question of personal taste. What pleases some people doesn’t please others and it’s not the work that is at stake but the way each one sees it according to his tastes.

Here it is the same. Some people will be attached to some of the points I mentioned, others a lot, if not to all.

Everyone will not prioritize them in the same way or even weight them in the same way.

It is not possible and not even desirable to please everyone, so what can the company do about it?

Recruit people who will like what it offers or become the one who will please those it wants to attract. To each his own.

However, the good news is that the “love” we are talking about here is much more rational than when we use this term between human beings. It is made up of many factors which, even if everyone considers them differently, are no less tangible or “verbalizable”. So many things to rely on to move forward.

And as the saying goes, “there is no love but proof of love”, let’s not forget that the issue is to act on concrete variables, not just to wait for employees to fall in love miraculously.

Image: I love my work from one photo via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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