Family Patterns at Work

It is not just business management consultants who recognize that people working together tend to replicate family structures and dynamics. Any manager will tell you this. Healthy employees naturally want to feel connected to their organization and its mission just as they want to feel connected to their family.  They bring the same techniques and the same emotional tools to achieve this aim at work as they do in a family. 

This principle is simply an extension of the science that underlies the essential human need for nurturance.  People attach to one or two caregivers, usually their parents, for survival.  Successful attachment is critical to their development.  In the work environment, people apply this fundamental tendency for attachment to one or two supervisors. They look to this person or persons for leadership and guidance.  It is the model humans impose on group relationships. 

Consequently employees want a supervisor to care about them, praise them, and encourage their development.  It feels safe and secure, and it encourages people to give their best to the organization.

Family contexts also provide a value system that employees can appreciate.  Togetherness and team spirit are comfortable feelings that encourage involvement and effort.  Family contexts also have implied rules, like fairness and equal treatment.  Perceived inequities are cause for quick reactions and a sense of rejection.

The real rub for supervisors and managers is the way employees automatically view them as parent substitutes.  Powerful feelings are projected onto managers, from which there is no escape.  The only path is learning how to deal with these strong projections to help the employee, benefit the company, and preserve one’s own skin.

More about these family patterns in my next post.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

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