The Power of Love in Business

Love is, in most cases, not the most discussed issue at the office. However, it is a powerful source and a guide for employee satisfaction, productivity, and overall wellbeing as research shows. It is not romantic love at the workplace but the ‘companionate’ version of love, with affection, connection, warmth, and care at its core. And for those who wonder if anything so mysterious and delicate as love ever could be the topic of research, the answer is affirmative.

The Triangular Theory of Love

In 1986 an article by Robert J. Sternberg (Yale University) was published, ‘A Triangular Theory of Love’. It presents a theory of – romantic – love, according to which love has three components: intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment. The intimacy component refers to feelings that promote closeness, bondedness, and connectedness. The passion component refers to drives and physical attraction, romance and sex, while the decision/commitment component refers to the decision to love someone, at the start and, as the follow-up, the commitment to maintain that love. Interestingly, these three components can be translated to the workplace as well. Looking at the intimacy component, which includes the desire to promote the other’s welfare, emotional support, reliability, trust, and respect, amongst others, in the setting of professional life all of these most certainly will do more good than harm. Proximity (geographical, cognitive, social, et cetera) and interconnectedness is intimacy transcribed for the office. One might ask, why not fix it all with empathy? While empathy is the ability to understand what other people feel, it does not necessarily mean adequate measures are taken, which can be necessary for promoting the welfare of others. Therefore, empathy can be one of the ‘properties’ of the glue called love but it surely is not ‘enough’.

Before we transpose the passion component, which at first sight seems a rather unusual undertaking, Sternberg offers a signpost. “In general, the intimacy component might be viewed as largely, but not exclusively, deriving from emotional investment in the relationship; the passion component as deriving largely, although not exclusively, from motivational involvement in the relationship; and the decision/commitment component as deriving largely,

although not exclusively, from cognitive decision in and commitment to the relationship.” Thus, motivational involvement is key when it comes to the passion component, looking at it from the workplace perspective this works both ways. Experienced enthusiasm and joy can add to motivation and dedication. When shared and experienced together, it can foster a culture of curiosity, lifelong learning, and innovation.

The third component, that of decision/commitment, is the most rational one as it includes the cognitive elements that are connected to decision making. It combines short term beginnings and long-term maintenance. From the worker’s point of view this can be put into practice by accepting a job offer, to be willing to give their best, and to stay with the company. Similarly, the employer takes care of a decent job offer, to be sustained over time by matching working conditions and career opportunities, with the aim to have a long-term company-employee relationship that is mutually beneficial.

“When leaders care less about their people, their people will be careless”

– Simon Sinek

Love is a potential power for the better

If love is potential and as such harnessed power, how to unlock this beneficial source in the company? For one thing, top-down engagement sets the stage. Employers who actually want to learn what it is that their employees need to feel they belong, valued and respected, show a different kind of care from the periodical performance review. Explained so well by Barsade and O’Neill (2014, What’s love got to do with it), companionate love is not a self-focused emotion, such as pride or joy. These center on independence and selforientation, while “companionate love is an other-focused emotion, promoting interdependence and sensitivity toward other people.” There is an evolutionary explanation to it as well. This kind of love is “a way to strengthen social bonds, helping to keep people connected and committed.” To wrap it up, respect and dignity are intertwined and when treated well, the founding pillars of trust. Add genuine concern, care, and a long-term focus. Bring courage into the room, together with a sense of purpose. Listen with ears, eyes, and heart. Create an environment where people feel safe and well, and take appropriate action in case a bad apple turns up. Last but not least, remember we are all human and ‘in this together’.


Robert J. Sternberg (1986). Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological review, 93(2), 119-135.

Sigal G. Barsade & Olivia A. O’Neill (2014). What’s love got to do with it? A longitudinal study of the culture of companionate love and employee and client outcomes in a long-term care setting. Administrative Science Quarterly, 59(4), pp. 551-598.


Mr. dr. Marina van Driel (advisor Erasmus institute for Business Economics)

Henri Slob MSc (PhD candidate at Erasmus School of Philosophy and Program Manager of Executive Program ‘Liefde in Bedrijf’ at Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organization)

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