You have been hearing me talk about emotional safety and security in the work environment as critical to getting the best performance from your employees. Well, one key element to this process is the building of a family-like work environment. What is this? It is the process of creating a workplace where people feel at home; where they are attached to the organization and want to make it succeed.
When we first put our new book, The People Side of Business, out for comment we had a colleague and good friend, Skip, complain about this notion. “I keep telling people in business that the workplace is NOT a family. It is about performance and the mission of the organization.” Well, we actually agreed. The workplace IS about performance and mission. But the best performance comes from people who feel secure in their jobs and where there is a family-like system of caring for employees.
People feel most comfortable in a work culture where they are in concert with the prevailing values. When they “believe” in what their organization stands for, they will contribute fully. When employees believe that the company wants the best for them (as well as the organization), they push themselves to meet goals.
There is just no escaping the fact that humans bring a family lens to groups in which they participate. They see peers as siblings and supervisors as parent figures. Employees want exacting sibling fairness (with rules, pay scales, and overall treatment), and complete support and encouragement from their supervisors (with fair evaluations, individual attention, and personal recognition).
One of the reasons that leaders can have such power is that we humans are wired to look for someone to give us direction. Leadership is not just about visionary acumen, but about people connection such that others will follow. It is our natural instinct to want, respect and appreciate parent figures.
Now, while there are great advantages to understanding family phenomena in the work environment, there are also easy mines to step on. In my coming posts I’ll discuss the implications of the family lens, ways to achieve the family-like atmosphere, and the great value in teaming.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
1)Bad attitudes: “My boss is chronically annoyed.” This is how one employee described his boss. He assumed it was because work production was not up to par and he was worried that the blame would eventually be pinned on his tail.
2)Dangers in the physical environment: “They didn’t bother to contain the dust from the construction down the hall; they don’t care about our health.” A worker explained that despite her expressed concerns there was an unwillingness to make sure her area was safe. The episode left her assuming no one cared about her as a person.
3)Judgmental management: “My manager reminds me regularly that I am their difficult employee.” Struggling to improve and succeed, this person kept hearing judgments that effectively told her she would never succeed.
4)Dishonest or disingenuous behaviors: “These people asked for my feedback, but I saw Sally get in trouble when she complained.” All too often management says that things are open and that feedback is desired. Well, not always.
5)Lack of commitment to employee success. “They’ve let me know I am replaceable.” An employee complained about an unnecessary process. The answer she heard was that they could find someone who didn’t mind their processes. She’ll never contribute again.
6)Negativity about employees or others: “I heard my manager talking to another about how she disliked Sally.” From this employee’s point of view it could just as well be her next time the managers chose to be negative about someone. It left her uncomfortable. She even wondered if she should inform her friend Sally.
7)Preoccupation with rules or ways of acting unrelated to outcomes: “There are a bunch of stupid rules here about lunch times, dress, and behavior that have nothing to do with doing my job.” Sometimes management wants to control, thinking that the controls matter. Usually there is too much control.
8)Not appreciating success, because it is expected. “We’ve been pushing and pushing to get things done by the deadline. Will this ever end?” Especially when there is growth, too often more and more is expected. When it is not acknowledged people lose the willingness to continue pushing hard.
There are many ways to ruin the environment that makes it safe and secure for workers to operate at their best. Most of the time the problematic behavior is inadvertent. This can only be prevented by having a clear commitment and vision to creating a healthy, emotionally safe work environment.
Tom DeMaio, PhD