Love at Work

Love at Work

The work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations is based on a certain kind of love.


14 February 2023

Photograph by Eleanor Mamorsky and Emma Ballantyne

Love and work; work and love ... that’s all there is.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.

There is no passion to be found in playing small — in settling for a life that is less than you are capable of living.


C. S. Lewis

Nelson Mandela

It is reasonable to assume that the work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations is based on a certain kind of love, a committed positive regard for the work of investigating human relations in all its forms, so that people and society can lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives. It is a labour of love that springs from many motives — from the heart and the head, from the conscious and the unconscious — the work of researching and developing people is exciting and life-enhancing, and sometimes frustrating and disappointing, but never dull or boring.

As an institution we are committed to life-long learning, never satisfied with the status quo, always seeking to enhance and progress, discovering new levels of knowledge, while recognising that any new knowledge thus discovered, will shortly be out-of-date. Yet, that process of new turning to old, does not prevent us from carrying on, because although human relations and human behaviour can be observed to run in patterns, no two patterns are alike, each pattern has its own unique qualities, characteristics and complexities - they have the imprint of the numinous, the spiritual and the magical.

The people and the work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations resemble the immensity of space, the regions of the infinite, no question is ever evaded, no mystery left undefined. Our people use every device, every mental apparatus available to investigate questions and problems that constitute the art of living, in good times and bad, in isolation and in the company of others.

Love describes our approach to our work - we do our best to avoid prejudicial judgments and we try to be fair when judgements are necessary. We are aware that human beings have the ability to rise to great heights of achievement and to sink low into despair, to aspire to greatness and to find beauty in the ordinary.

We acknowledge that human beings are meaning-searching creatures, and we like our meanings to be shared, to be part of a collective. We believe that knowledge has redemptive and liberating qualities, that to know is better than to be ignorant, despite sometimes much effort being expended on repressing what we do not wish to know. This liberating and redemptive drive is the expression of our love — for humanity in the round and its institutions, and for the solitary individual in themselves.

Our love drives us to shine a light on understanding and resolve doubts, mysteries and uncertainties of the human condition. We understand there are reasons for blockages and resistances to occur, even if we don’t always understand how to remove them. For example, the world is barely recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic which has changed our relationships with each other, that has made us question everything about our work, and so much else that we took for granted. We turned to technology that enabled us to see and talk to many people over long distances and across time zones, but it also deprived us of the close human touch, the absence of which damages our well-being and our ability to work well.

We ran into this trouble during an online leadership development programme for a global company. The online/digital nature of the communications demanded a different mindset and only a small proportion of the cohort could overcome the technical difficulties and remain committed for the duration of the programme. The necessary support for the programme was paper-thin and difficult to sustain; we cannot count this assignment as one of our shining successes. Nevertheless, the project taught us about the depersonalising effects of technology, the barrenness of a process that does not involve people meeting each other, touching one another, eating meals together, increasing intimacy and developing social bonds in a literal interactive way and sharing in the joys and frustrations of working together.

Another example of love as a motivation, is a research project the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations is developing in partnership with an NHS Hospital Trust and a University to investigate why the take up of home haemodialysis (HHD) among patients suffering from End Stage Kidney Disease is so low (1%), when evidence points to HHD being clinically better for patients and less expensive for the exchequer than hospital dialysis (£7,000 p.a. vs £19,000 p.a.). Current research focuses on influencing factors like socio-economic standing and educational level of patients and families, and urban versus rural living, but to increase the take-up of HHD, more research is needed on the emotional and psychological relationships that patients and their families have towards their disease and their treatment, and especially with their dialyzing machines.

The Tavistock Institute in-depth methods of research involve close, intimate relationships with a variety of people and groups that make up the treatment system - the patients, naturally, and their families, nursing and medical staff, managers and policymakers. The research methods lovingly and patiently uncover the many layers of thoughts and feelings of people affected by kidney failure and the threats to their lives. This is work that requires patience, persistence, empathy, compassion, tolerance and love, and adherence to scientific methodological principles, without compromising professional standards.

And finally, a note about finding love in oneself for working with difficult-to-love people who do not want to work with you, which is sometimes the fate of social workers who claim their profession works with people no one else wants to work with. Finding the love to work with people who are cast out of society, or who are troubled in mind or body, calls for something like religious zeal, doing “God’s work” to work at the extremes of pathological lives. That too is ‘love’, and at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations systems of teamwork and organisational support makes it possible to find the love for people who exist at the edges, because we believe (and research has shown) that love and human relationships are the key to growth and development as individuals seeking happiness and as responsible citizens contributing to society.

Dr Mannie Sher

Principal Consultant and Director of the Organisational Consulting: Working with the Dynamics Programme

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