“What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

August 17, 2022

Apologies (and credit) to Tina Turner, but her iconic song title is the perfect title for this short essay about Marcus Buckingham’s new book, Love and Work and a related article in the Harvard Business Review, Designing Work that People Love. (HBR, May-June 2022).

Let’s step back before diving into Buckingham’s new ideas. If you’ve worked in progressive firms, you may have been exposed to the Gallup Employee Engagement Survey. Gallup’s work is terrific. I recall the first time I had a chance to use it in practice. I loved it. Good data about how my team and organization felt about working in our firm? Never had it before. Gallup’s methodologies and findings were great. But then they weren’t. Why? Because the remedies for low engagement were not easily implemented. Too complicated? I think so. I know I needed something simpler.

Enter Marcus Buckingham’s Love and Work ideas.  I won’t do his work justice in this short blog post, but I can share some highlights of the book that I am carrying with me. I’ve shared these ideas with several others with good results. Here goes:

Doing Work That We Love is the Goal

Buckingham explains that love and work are essential human experiences, but we must find where they converge. Combining these elements sounds awkward – maybe even impossible.  However, Buckingham shows us a way by tying the psychology of human happiness into work. Buckingham explains how our life (including work!)  experiences are composed of many threads.   Most of these threads are ‘emotionally meager’. They don’t do much for us, good or bad. But some threads are special. These are his Red Threads. We find ourselves instinctively pulling on these threads. When we do this, time flies by. Pulling on these Red Threads turns out to be a source of happiness for all of us.

Buckingham warns us that no work is 100% Red Threads, but those Red Threads are out there. Love and Work shares a methodology for learning what your Red Threads might be.

Test Yourself. Does Your Work Include Your Red Threads?

Buckingham’s message is simple. Find your Red Threads, cherish them and find more. Red Threads are the foundation to loving your work. People who love their work still quit, but they leave less often and when they do leave, they tend to leave for the ‘right’ reasons (pay, bad bosses, new opportunities -more Red Threads, etc.).

Buckingham gives us an easy three question test for our current jobs and a way to think about prospective jobs:

  1. Were you excited to work every day last week?
  2. Do you have a chance to use your strengths every day?
  3. Does your job give you the chance to do what you are good at and do something you love?

Answer yes to these and your work has Red Threads. Answer no and Buckingham urges us to find the Red Threads in your current work or find new work.

I Am a Manager. How Can I Help My Team Find Their Red Threads?

The book has several ideas for managers, but my favorite is Buckingham’s idea that Span of Control is a failed concept. Remember Span of Control? Back in the day, it was taught as a mathematical function. Buckingham reframes Span of Control into Span of Attention. Instead of asking how many people a leader can manage, Buckingham asks a simpler question, “How many people can a manager work with over the year to successfully complete a weekly check-in with each direct report?” This check-in asks four questions:

  1. What did you love last week?
  2. What activities did you loathe last week?
  3. What are your priorities this week?
  4. What help do you need from me?

Buckingham cited several examples of poor performing workplaces where workers are consistently dissatisfied and the data shows supervisors/managers having too many direct reports. ‘Too many’ means that there was no way for the manager to have the weekly check-in conversations with each of their teammates.

Wrap Up

These two ideas – ‘finding your Red Threads’ and fixing the ‘Span of Attention’ are real insights. They will help you when you consider your own work situation and when you are in a leadership role. Of course, they are not quick fixes. You will want to work at these ideas. Reading Love and Work is a great start and then talking about these ideas with people you can trust is essential.

Thanks for reading. These ideas are important to me personally and to my team at Elevation Talent Group. Our mission and values are grounded in helping talent and hiring managers find the job experiences that have lots of Red Threads!  Take a look at our story.

Your Red Threads are out there.  Let us help you find them.


Written by Tim Jackson, Vice President of Technology & Operations at Elevation Talent Group

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