Is Unconditional Love Possible in the Workplace?

When children do not experience unconditional love in the holding worlds of family, child-minding and pre-primary, primary and post primary schools, inevitably, they suffer loss of self-esteem.  When their regular relationship experiences are of a conditional nature – ‘be good’, ‘be perfect’, ‘be quiet’,

‘be hardworking’, ‘be like me’, ‘be top of the class’, ‘be a winner’- they wisely conform or rebel or develop an avoidance strategy against these proscriptions.  When they conform they will do all in their power to measure up to the unrealistic expectations because they know that to fall short is to risk the greatest blow of all – harsh rejection or being a disappointment with the consequence of being ignored.  Those children who rebel act-out the hurt of their unique presence being confused with a specific behaviour and they equally do all in their power to ensure they get attention, albeit substitute, for being difficult and troublesome.  Some children attempt to go under the radar so that the risk of rejection is reduced but, nonetheless, they cleverly get attention for being the ‘invisible’ child – the one that causes no trouble – ‘you’d hardly know he’s there’.  The wise ploy being employed here is avoidance –“the less I do the less likely that I’ll fail to meet the conditions for recognition” – thereby reducing the risks of being rejected.

What has all the foregoing to do with unconditional love in the workplace?  The interesting fact is that employees are categorised under three main headings: those who are ‘Highly Engaged’, those who are ‘Disengaged’ and those who are ‘Cave Dwellers’.  The highly engaged employees are the ones that organisations develop all sorts of reward packages to retain them because of their dedication and productivity.  When children, these employees were the ones who conformed to parental unrealistic expectations and their dependence continues to be reinforced in the workplace. Their individuality and maturity have been quietly suffocated by conditional recognition for their achievements.  The terror of failure continues to dominate their lives and the pressures they put on themselves to perform they also put on others – colleagues and their own children.  They are not happy campers and yet, to their own cost and to the cost of others, they often occupy the upper echelons of power – political, work organisational, educational, financial and social.  Unless they come to an unconditional acceptance of themselves and separateness from the responses and expectations of others, they will continue to live lives of quiet desperation but also be a threat to the wellbeing of others.

When children, the ‘disengaged’ employees are the ones who developed the avoidance strategy and they do the least for the most money in the workplace.  These employees are difficult to motivate as they tend to go for the average, avoid risk-taking, are passive and fight shy of responsibility – all ways of offsetting criticism and rejection.  Unless they free themselves of the fears of failure, of what others think of them and come to an inhabiting of their own individuality and a responsibility for self and their own actions, they will remain hidden under the blanket of avoidance.

The CAVE (constantly against virtually everything) dwellers are the rebels, the troublemakers, the gossips who do little but protest loudly.  Their fears of rejection are hidden behind their aggressive and bullying responses.  They too hate responsibility and are expert at ‘passing the buck’.  Sadly, their behaviour alienates others (recognition in itself!) and work organisations will do anything to get them to move out – even paying them off!  Redemption for these unhappy individuals also lies in discovering that they are worthy of love for their unique self and that being confused with particular behaviours has been a painful journey.

It appears to me that unconditional recognition is an essential requirement within workplaces and when it is present what is more likely to emerge is a new category of employees – ‘Engaged’ workers - who operate from a solid interiority of independence and deep regard for self and others and who view work as love made visible.  These mature employees will integrate work as an important part of their lives and they will bring the fullness of their commitment, intelligence, creativity and affectivity to the workplace.

In the words of the late John O’Donohue ‘it is futile to weary your life with the politics of fashioning a persona in order to meet the expectations of other people’ and in my words ‘ it is a protection to hide yourself away in order to avoid the rejection of others and what a disaster not to be found’.  Without unconditional love no safety to be self and no maturity is present.  Unconditional regard is not a ‘soft’ issue as many managers who are in fearful places believe; indeed, it is the ‘hardest’ challenge of all.  The ‘success’ (highly engaged) culture that emerged in the last two decades has not served us well; it was and still is characterised by depersonalisation, avarice, greed, individualism, narcissism and a lack of accountability and authenticity. Individuality, authenticity and accountability are the essential bases for emotional, social, spiritual and economic prosperity; however, these necessary qualities are only possible in a climate of unconditional love in places where we live, learn, work, play and pray.  In the presence of the current dark economic fallout and the denial evident in the catholic hierarchy the urgency to address unconditional love has been never more pressing.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author/National and International Speaker. He is also Director of three UCC courses on Interpersonal Communication, Parent Mentoring and Relationship Studies.  Details of these courses are available here or contact Margaret at 021 4642394.