So its Valentine’s Day. In the spirit of the day I’d like you to try a simple experiment. If you are truly blessed in your life, at some point today somebody will tell you “I love you”. In that moment I want you to look deep in their eyes and clearly respond “Thank you, I am satisfied with you as well”. Hint: You might want to put a pillow and a blanket in the car before trying this – because chances are you will be sleeping there tonight.
If you are an organizational psychologist this experiment makes perfect sense. We have spent decades telling managers and employees and anyone else who would listen that job satisfaction is the ultimate emotional state. In the face of very limited evidence we have tried to convince people that satisfied employees are less likely to be absent, less likely to quit and more like to perform their jobs to a high level.
Even psychologists recognize that satisfaction is, at best, a truncated affective state. Satisfaction is the feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not convinced that this is a state we should be trying to create in our organizations.
More recently, researchers have focused on the notion of engagement. This is a tricky one because engagement means different things to different people. Even among the research community “employee engagement” and “work engagement” are two different constructs. Whatever the merits of that debate, the underlying model is the same – we think that employees should be happy all the time.
Now think about people who love their work. In his Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs suggested that finding work that you love is one of the most important things you can do. What does it mean to love your work?
One important observation is that to love someone is not necessarily to be happy all the time. Think of the people in your life that you love – are you happy with them all the time? Of course not, they can be frustrating, infuriating and even downright obnoxious (ok maybe that’s just me). In attempting to define love, Rempel and Burris said that love was a “motivational state in which the goal was to preserve and promote the well-being of the valued object (p.299)”. Setting aside the fact that they just referred to your children as “objects”, I think they have a point. Loving someone is not about you being happy – it is about trying to ensure that the person you love is happy. Just look at the valentine’s you purchased today committing you to climbing the highest mountain, swimming the deepest sea (see you on Friday if it doesn’t rain).
Another psychologist, Robert Sternberg said that to truly love somebody is to be passionate about, committed to, and have an intimate relationship with, that person. My colleagues and I took the liberty of adapting this model to the workplace when we proposed a model of loving your job. In essence we said that to love your job is to be passionate about the work you do, committed to the organization and to have high quality relationships with the people you work with (I have stopped referring to this last dimension as intimacy because the HR people freak out when you encourage intimate relationships in the workplace).
In the last several years we have been collecting data on the notion of loving your job and now have a growing body of evidence that loving your job has real outcomes for the individual (in terms of psychological and physical well-being) as well as for the organization (e.g. turnover, performance).
So on this Valentine’s Day, I hope that you have found both a person and a job you can love.
 Van Katwyk, P. T., Fox, S., Spector, P. E., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000). Using the Job-Related Affective Well-Being Scale (JAWS) to investigate affective responses to work stressors. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(2), 219-230.
 Rempel, J.K. & Burris, C.T. (2005). Let me count the ways: An integrative theory of love and hate. Personal Relationships, 12, 297-313.
 Sternberg, R.J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119-135.
 Kelloway, E.K., Inness, M., Barling, J., Francis, L. & Turner, N. (2010). Loving one’s job: Construct development and implications for individual well-being. In P.L. Perrewe and D.C. Ganster (Eds). New Developments in Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches to Job Stress, Research in Occupational Stress and WellBeing, Volume 8 (109-136). Bingley, UK:Emerald.