Is it possible to love your job?

U of A business researcher thinks you can and argues it is in an organization's best interest to nurture that affection.

You can be immensely satisfied with your job, but can you actually love it?

A University of Alberta organizational behaviour expert seems to think so and used an interpersonal love model to prove it.

Michelle Inness wanted to get at the heart of what it means to love your job. She and her research team used psychologist Robert Sternberg's "triangular theory of love," which supposes three aspects of love between people-passion, commitment and intimacy, all of which need to be present to achieve "consummate love"-to see if it could be applied to your job.

"We wanted to develop a way of measuring that love, to try and capture the psychological experience of loving a job," said Inness, who is quick to point out that her work on love of job does not equate job with spouse, but rather wondered if the experience of love is the same no matter who or what the target of your love is.

"We know that people can have a passion for what they do at work, we know that people can have commitment to their workplace and they can also have that sense of intimacy-a connection, a sharing, a bondedness with their work colleagues."

Inness developed a nine-item rating scale-three items for each aspect, passion, commitment and intimacy-that asked respondents to rate how they feel about their job. The items included statement such as I am excited to do my job each day and I feel very close to the people at work. The team then used that scale to look at how different attitudes affect behaviours at work.

What her research determined is that people whose job is a labour of love have no intention of leaving, are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, take it upon themselves to help or enhance the organization and tend to find a sense of purpose in their job.

"We found there is a correspondence between saying 'I love what I do,' and feeling like your job has meaning and purpose, that it somehow makes a contribution to society and enhances your life in some way," said Inness. "There is a psychological sense that they truly belong there, that they are one with the company and that the company's interests are their interests."

Of course, Inness said it is in an organization's best interest to create a culture of job love.

"Organizations that engage in messaging about why their employees' work matters, that want people to contribute ideas and give them credit for it, that provide an opportunity for growth, will get people to buy in," she said. "Organizations that manage their culture well and provide these psychosocial resources to employees tend to perform better and keep people longer."

As well, Inness said her team has some preliminary data suggesting that leaders who inspire, lead by example and live by a code or a set of values, will typically have employees who love their job.

"The extent to which you as an employee have some control over what you do and the ability to influence or feel like you have a voice-those are the things that we would expect to really matter," said Inness.

Oddly, what society deems as an important vocation does not necessarily drive love, but rather importance is driven by people's own perceptions.

"There has been research done over the years that shows even in jobs that society considers to be menial, when employees doing those jobs are provided with the sense that what they are doing matters to someone, that tends to enhance their attitudes about their work," said Inness.