What makes a great employer? What virtues can we nail down, analyse, appreciate and then apply to our own day-to-day working lives? There must after all be some sort of super-boss formula that separates the wheat from the chaff in the workplace?

To answer this, it helps to take a step back in time and explore a little more what we mean by human ‘virtues’. It may be of little or no surprise to you to know that the first human virtues were identified by the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, who regarded temperance, wisdom, justice, and courage as the four most desirable character traits.

From here, a long and winding philosophical path has led us to the ‘seven heavenly virtues’ – a set of guidelines that were formulated in direct opposition to the more well-known ‘seven deadly sins’ starring Brad Pitt and a severed head. As the name suggests however, the virtues give us a rather more positive spin on the human condition.

Times move on, technologies spring up around us, apps invade our lives, our central heating is controlled by our smartphone – but we will all be ‘human’ for quite some time yet

The seven heavenly virtues appeared in an epic poem called Psychomachia, written by the poet Aurelius Clemens. This poem illustrated the battle between good and evil – the conflict we all know and love as a consequence of virtually every psychological thriller that Hollywood has to offer. Psychomachia was a palpable hit back in the middle ages, and virtues spread through Europe like wildfire, igniting the chastity and temperance in one and all. And so they remain today. Times move on, technologies spring up around us, apps invade our lives, our central heating is controlled by our smartphone – but we will all be ‘human’ for quite some time yet, and these virtues refuse to date as a consequence. There is much to be learned from Aurelius Clemens, so welcome to a rather more modern take on his theories, and how employers can can apply them to positive effect in the workplace. Not an employer? No problem – read on, and if you agree with more than 50% of it, forward this blog link to your boss.

  1. Castitas (chastity)

Step away from the chastity belt, you don’t need it on this modern take. Chastity after all applies to moral as well as physical ‘cleanliness’.

Moral cleanliness is otherwise known as honesty and integrity. A good employer is as honest with their staff as they are with their family and friends. As an employer, encourage your employees to embrace moral wholesomeness of thought through education and training. Let them learn and grow. Why not encourage employees to learn a language or an instrument at work, for example?

Physical cleanliness is not just about a good deodorant (but don’t get me wrong, this is also a thing). Encourage physical cleanliness simply through cultivated good health. Where there is caffeine, let there be smoothies. Where there is sugar, let there also be alternatives to nourish body and mind and improve productivity and achievement.

  1. Temperantia (temperance)

Temperance is a much-underused word in this day and age. Interestingly it refers to ‘mindfulness’ which is quite the buzz word at the moment. As an employer, how would you rate your mindfulness?

Constant ‘mindfulness’ of your employees and the surroundings they inhabit allows you to put yourself in their shoes, and putting yourself in your employees’ shoes, regardless of size, is a healthy activity. Why? It encourages moderation between your own self-interest, versus the interest of others (feel free to pause for a moment here, that’s think worthy).

Temperance and diplomacy are firm friends. Every great employer, like any great leader should constantly strive to strike the balance.

  1. Caritas (charity)

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” This quote by John Bunyan encapsulates all that is good – and selfless – about giving.

At this time of year, there’s little point in preaching to the converted – we all know that giving is good and many of us will be doing something good to help others already. The question is what can your organisation do to help others? When it comes to positive inspiration, leading the way in charity efforts knows no bounds. For inspiration, check out our recent blog about how to give to charity.

  1. Industria (diligence)

As a successful employer, encouraging diligence will please you no end in the name of virtue – but how? Encourage your staff to be steadfast in their efforts – to follow through projects to the end with energy and vigour. Encourage your team not to give up. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it. Troubleshoot, brainstorm, keep your team upbeat, motivated and rewarded.

Give power to your team. Let employees manage their own time, and value them by results rather than hours spent in front of their computer. Teach. Inform about how to combat human challenges such as depression or procrastination. Do all this and your reward will be natural and unenforced diligence.

  1. Patientia (patience)

Be patient when things don’t go your way.

There are always dark days in every business, for every employee and every employer. You can smooth choppy waters by encouraging peaceful resolve of conflict and injustice.

Humans in a confined space will always provoke sparks, any episode of Big Brother will show us that, but, as a great employer, aim to create a sense of peaceful stability through a sense of inclusive community. Pass these values on to leaders in your organisation and accept that resolving conflict means being aware of office politics, not shying away from them.

Where there is tension, let there be free massages. Where there are tumultuous meetings, let there be fun office outings. Creating a healthy workplace doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a way of thinking. It’s a flowering plant that demands light, water and occasional serenading.

  1. Benevolentia (kindness)

Kindness breeds kindness. Encourage generosity amongst your employees and nurture your environment through your own generosity of spirit. Reward your staff, not just with the salaries they deserve, but with other, more personal rewards that align with events that are taking place in their life right now.

John is trying to buy a house but is struggling to gather enough for a deposit, Shona is having a baby but split from her boyfriend, Julie is caring for an elderly relative and has been late into work a lot lately. Ask yourself, do you know what sorts of challenges your staff are facing right now? What can you do to help?

  1. Humilitas (humility)

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. This really is the perfect virtue to end with. Humility is a spirit of self-examination – it encourages charity towards those you disagree with and takes us full circle back to our first virtue.

As an employer, give open credit where it’s due. Make big promises (“we will help you get through this”) and small promises (“let’s brainstorm this over a few beers”), then be faithful to them.

Finally, help your employees in any way you can, to confront their fears and uncertainty as adults.


Hopefully these seven virtues have inspired you. As you can see from all of our blog backlinks – this is really what My London Works is all about. We spend a lot of time at work, so let’s make work a happy place to live. Let’s make life a happy place to work.

And all credit to the dude Aurelius.



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