The View from HR

View from HR: Workplace should embrace care, respect found in best families

CorrespondentJanuary 25, 2014 

The best part of my day job is meeting new employers and seeing how they work. Proud office tour guides sometimes say, “We are like a family here!”

Each time, I want to know if being “like a family” is a good or bad aspect of this workplace. Is this movie more like “Christmas Vacation” or “Mary Poppins”?

Families should love and accept you with all your faults. They provide help in times of need. Families have shared memories and often shared values. These strengths can propel families to grow, to maximize each individual and make the next generation better.

Families may have dysfunctions such as controlling leaders, a lack of accountability, mixed signals and tolerance of destructive or mediocre behaviors. Certain topics go on the “do not bring this up” list. These traits hurt a family and prevent growth.

Don’t confuse the two

The best employers believe family is more important than work. They back this up with policies and genuine support for employees and their personal needs. They then trust employees to do their work and meet their family responsibilities.

Good work cultures celebrate the family back at home. Employees care about each other on a personal level, knowing about family milestones and hurdles. People enjoy understanding the most important parts of each other’s lives. They can then share common values in the pursuit of their commercial or nonprofit goals.

Still, in my view, the best work cultures do not confuse each other with a real family.

Treating each other like the typical real family often leads to the same dysfunctions found among blood relatives. People who refuse to do their share or to improve behaviors are tolerated. Good employees leave and progress is stymied. Problems go unspoken and unresolved. Prevention of conflict in exchange for “peace” becomes more important than business goals.

Embrace family model

The very best employers and leaders find ways to blend the understanding, support and forgiveness in real families with the accountability, challenges and motivation of real work. Every employee will one day need a manager’s understanding like a trusted family member. Most employees will regularly need the clear expectations of a good manager. On occasion, hard realities mean some people must leave.

Family-owned and run businesses are another twist. The most successful find ways to separate the needs of the business from the needs of the family, while satisfying both. In a way, a non-family-owned business that successfully runs “like a family” has found this same spot on the family behavior continuum. They are neither reality show dysfunctional on one end nor robotic managers on the other.

Encourage your workplace to embrace the care and respect found in great families. Just as important, help your workplace and employees avoid the common problems of real families that make it tough to go to work each day.

I hope my next tour guide describes their workplace as “caring about each other while getting the job done.” Maybe another way to say it is, “We are like a well-functioning family!”

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

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