The Agapé Workplace
By James Clark
Stepping Stone, January 2021
One the various types of love described by the Greeks is Agapé love. Often translated as charity, the love of God for man and of man for God, Agapé is widely referenced in Christian writings, but the concept is not uniquely Christian. Agapé love in common use refers to unconditional love, compassion and empathy that transcends human bounds, and it can be found as an important component of many world faith traditions. From a purely psychological level, this form of love is recognized as something that helps build, strengthen and enrich our social lives.
But what does this have to do with the workplace? Consider this: What if the principles of Agapé love were among the foundations upon which an enterprise is built or a business or team is run?
The one thing that all organizations have in common is that they are made up of people. Whether few or many, nothing happens without people. Even technical fields that include high investment in technology and artificial intelligence ultimately rely on people to move the organization forward. While compensation, engaging work and opportunity to advance are important, these are not the things that motivate people to bring their full force to bear every day at work. Instead, it is a sense of belonging, an interdependency on fellow workers and a feeling of shared compassion and love—for coworkers, for the business and ultimately for the customer. This is Agapé love.
Stefano Tasselli, an associate professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, noted that “Agapé in organisations is perhaps best expressed through compassionate leadership.” He goes on to state, “Compassionate leaders are not afraid to show concern and emotion towards their followers. In practice this helps avoid common workplace problems that we prefer to pretend don’t exist, like performance bias, when a person is judged on who they are rather than what they do.”
When leaders can show this kind of compassion and respectful love toward those in their organizations and lead in showing it to customers also, it has the power to be transformational. Internally, teams become more cohesive because leaders take the time to truly know their employees and adjust leadership approaches to each individually in order to elevate the whole. Employees are then able to focus on driving the greatest good for the company and the customers rather than be distracted by intercompetitive behavior as they strive to be noticed. Employees become more engaged, and employee turnover is reduced.
Externally, showing Agapé love for customers is key to behaving with high moral and ethical clarity in the marketplace, in addition to understanding and delivering the value customers are seeking. When an entire team is focused on driving value for the customer and doing what’s right and best for the customer rather than what’s convenient and best for the company, customer loyalty increases, and a company can gain market momentum that builds upon itself.
Tim Sanders, author and former Yahoo! executive, has stated, “The most powerful force in business isn’t greed, fear, or even the raw power of unbridled competition. The most powerful force in business is love. It’s what will help your company grow and become stronger. It’s what will propel your career forward. It’s what will give you a sense of meaning and satisfaction in your work, which will help you do your best work.”
By applying the principles of Agapé love in the workplace coupled with sound business practices, leaders can have a profound influence for good within their employees and in the community they serve. They can leave the world a better place while at the same time building a sustainable and profitable business.
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.
James Clark, FSA, MAAA, is vice president of risk management at LifeMap Assurance Company. He can be contacted at email@example.com.