The Greeks, Love and Employee Engagement

“What is the difference between like and love?”, the novice asked the Master.  The Master replied: “If you like a flower you pick it.  If you love a flower, you water and care for it daily.”

Love is a broad concept and has many interpretations.  The ancient Greeks had six different words to describe love.  There was Eros, or sexual passionate love.  Philia meaning deep friendship with another person. Ludus describes the playful affection between young people. Agape love was the willing or wishing of good on all mankind.  Pragma is the longstanding love that mature couples develop over time through commitment and compromise.  Philautia describes self-love and can take a positive form, self-esteem, or a negative form, narcissism.

Yep, we are pretty complex creatures and human emotions are many and varied, and the words for love tend to describe our various human relationships.  Love, however, is not usually a word used in business, yet since we spend a significant amount of time at work (something like 50% or more of our waking day), maybe we should look at our relationship with work and the concept of love.

Employee engagement is a much talked about and studied concept in business today, basically referring to the amount of discretionary effort a person puts into their job or work.  And there are many studies correlating high employee engagement with high business performance, such as strong earnings growth, innovation, change agility, and a high performance culture.

Employee engagement is more than just earning a paycheck and doing what is prescribed in your job description.  Engagement refers to the additional and voluntary emotional, physical and mental effort a person puts into their workplace efforts. The key word here is voluntary.

And why do people voluntarily give more than they are paid for?  Human psychology tells us that much of our voluntary behaviour is driven by either avoiding pain or gaining a positive benefit.  Let’s hope the world of work is more about benefit than pain!

But beyond a paycheck, what positive benefits do we get from work? And what would cause an employee to give additional, voluntary effort?

And here is where love comes into the workplace. As I see it, there are three types of love that drive employee engagement:

  • I love the work I do.  When work is intellectually stimulating, when you learn and grow as a person becasue of the work, when you learn something new about yourself and the world, then it is easy to give voluntary effort, to even think about it when you are not at work, to come up with new ideas to enhance your work.
  • I love the people I work with.  When you are surrounded by people who bring out the best in you, who support and challenge you, who help and coach you, who help you improve as an employee and a person, then voluntary engagement is easy.
  • I love this company.  In an organization where managers and senior leaders work hard to remove barriers to work, reduce bureaucracy, provide tools to make work easier and faster, where ideas are listened to with respect and thoughtfulness, where there exists a higher purpose than just profit or revenue, where products and services are of high quality, where the customer is at the heart of the business, where goals are challenging instead of punitive, where there are ample opportunities for self development and advancement, then it is easy to foster high employee engagement.

My challenge to business leaders: If you want greater employee engagement, bring more “love” into the workplace.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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