Where do you spend most of your time outside the home? Obviously it is at work. Well, it is not just a job, and certainly not just an adventure, but it might be a place you would like to enjoy, be comfortable, and maybe even feel like it is your second home. People naturally prefer a family-like atmosphere at work. And it is achievable.
Everyone at work has multiple reasons for being there. While people need the job to provide a living wage, they want more. They want purpose. A purpose can be different things, like personal accomplishment, corporate success, selling better food, or providing critical medical care. People want to accomplish something that matters.
The organization takes care of its employees and they take care of it. This ends up feeling a lot like family, where we are in it together, need to help one another, and have the common good at heart.
There are many ways to build that family-like feeling in your organization. You build it by encouraging it, by the right attitude, and by the little things people interpret as family.
• Set up teams where workers participate in decision-making and responsibility for their outcomes. Workers should be a part of designing the success of the organization.
• Engage employees by soliciting their ideas and feedback.
• Foster a sense of group cohesion and togetherness through identity, shared mission, mutual dependence. Do this conceptually and through little things like company shirts, a logo, and community projects. Provide a shared meal for them once in a while.
• Make sure every supervisor listens to employee concerns. Make sure every supervisor discusses the employees’ needs.
• Provide opportunities for growth and development.
• Link organizational success to personal employee success. Acknowledge contributions to the organization.
• Encourage workers to get to know each other through informal and formal means.
• Communicate, communicate, communicate. Share plans, solicit input, be as open as possible.
Building a family-like atmosphere is not overly complicated. And there are many models and ideas in other organizations about how it can be done successfully. Mostly you have to decide that it is a valuable part of maximizing the satisfaction and productivity of your staff.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
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
People work at their best when they feel emotionally safe and secure. They focus their energy on solving problems, and not on their worries that they could be rejected. Secure employees are also happier and more satisfied employees.
Emotional safety can only occur after physical safety is assured. Physical safety is more than just protection from job hazards; it is also about workplace intolerance for interpersonal intimidation or violence.
People report feeling secure when they know what they are doing, and when they believe their supervisor also views them as competent in their job. The emotional safety comes from the sense that they will not be in trouble because they are unlikely to screw up.
So, people who have been around and have had good reviews tend to feel safe. Additionally, when employees have been handed opportunities to lead and operate independently, there is evidence that the system appreciates and accepts them. Longer term employees tend to feel safer and more secure.
So, how do you get newer employees to that place of safety? First, you welcome them. The process indicates that they are valued. Second, you define their job role and expectations. And third, you review regularly how their performance matches with expectations. Fourth, when they do well, you reward them, perhaps monetarily, but certainly personally.
The real trick comes when there are mistakes or failures. Employees (usually) worry about mistakes and their consequences. The sooner one actually occurs, the better. An episode of an error becomes the opportunity to clarify how you will deal with the person when things go wrong. Most people hate making mistakes and anticipate a rejecting response. When you review with the employee what happened and how it happened, in a nonjudgmental manner, they are relieved.
This is the process that sets up the proper risk-taking approach by the employee. It establishes the tone for the employee’s future effort to come up with new ideas and creatively solve problems. The employee says to himself, “Okay, now I know how creative I can be and what the consequences will be if I screw up.”
Creating emotional safety and security is not difficult if the culture of the organization cares to do it. The process is not about spending money, but about a commitment to the well-being of staff. Oh yes, and it is also about improving the bottom line.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
When I wrote about safety and security in the workplace last September 10, I didn’t realize it would be the subject most searched to find our blog. Clearly leaders and managers want to know how to create safety and security for themselves and their employees in the workplace.
Creating a safe workplace is definitely not about having police officers roaming the shop floor. Safety and security happens fundamentally because someone running the show actually cares enough to make it that way. The most important aspect of leadership in this regard is that they care.
When leadership cares they make sure that dangerous or threatening people are not working in the organization. Threats to safety and security are simply not to be tolerated; not from coworkers and not from management. This is established through workplace rules and policies.
Workers generally don’t feel threatened by rules, especially those established for their safety. The policies and procedures, what we call structure, are there to provide a framework for achieving. With a framework in place, leadership and management can focus on care and support.
This care and support has people feel like they are important and integral to the success of the organization. Nurturance creates a feeling of security which allows people to work at their best. Without the fear of rejection (of losing their job) people can settle in and bring their best problem-solving to their job.
The essential fuel to power employees is the nurturance provided by the organization. The nurturance is provided through interactions that indicate that the company values its people; that they are listened to, encouraged, and offered guidance. No one talks down to them or criticizes them personally.
There are two people that workers look to for the sense of caring and security. They look to their immediate supervisor and to the overall leader of the organization. The immediate supervisor is the translator, or messenger, of the company. The CEO is the company.
When workers see that these people care, they feel safe and secure. More about this in my coming posts.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Easier said than done. That’s the reaction I sometimes get when talking with leaders and managers. Working with people can be difficult and frustrating. People make mistakes, get irrational, and need things that seem unrelated to the mission of the business.
So where do you find the acceptance, the caring, the ‘love’? For me, it’s all in the heart. We need to remember that one person is not better than another. We are all born human and all have similar struggles with the human condition. Be careful not to judge, you have not walked in the other’s shoes.
“Fine,” I’ll hear, “but do I have to accept the times when people screw up?” My response is absolutely not. You accept the person, not necessarily their behavior. You would like to see each employee succeed and you are committed to helping them achieve high performance for their own personal success and for the good of the organization. This is why your messages about mistakes will be about the performance and not about the nature of the person.
Your goal is not to be a saint either. You can get annoyed, frustrated, or upset with people. Your emotional reaction can show that they matter and that what they do matters to the business. Your upset is because the business goals are being thwarted, not because they are idiots. And this is what you need to have clear in your heart and in your actions. So if you have been short or cross with someone you have to go back and let them know that you didn’t mean it personally.
If you are a manager and leader, you are probably oriented to outcomes: you want to achieve the mission of your organization. Remember, it is your attachment to those goals that gets you frustrated with people. Part of your growth as a leader is to be committed to the mission and to finding the best ways for people to achieve it. You don’t want to turn into HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, who had to eliminate the spaceship crew because he believed they threatened the mission.
People are much easier to accept when you have a full toolkit for working with them. Learn the six principles; it will work for you and for those you lead.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Too often business managers and leaders look to workplace programs to create healthy and productive employees. The great ones know something that is foundational and more natural. You can’t build a dynamic employee culture unless you ACCEPT people. So easy to say, but what does it mean?
Great leaders and managers appreciate people and accept that they are human: that they can be irrational and emotional. People aren’t machines and don’t work like them. They don’t just do the assignment as it is asked and sometimes they like to do things their own way. It is almost impossible to lead people if you don’t like them and the way they operate.
Employees read acceptance from their leaders. They look to the smile on your face when you interact with them. The smile conveys that they are appreciated and that they matter to you. The absence of some form of positive affirmation can easily be read as rejection, disinterest, or bad intent. This is what makes the ‘meet and greet’ aspect of leadership so important.
Expressing an interest in employees, both professionally and personally, conveys that you care. People always light up when someone higher up asks them about their job. The simplest question, like, “how is it going?” can really make someone’s day. The sense is that they matter if the boss asks. And if they matter, then they are more likely to give a damn about the work and the company.
A critical piece to the process is that people believe they are wanted, and that they are not being rejected. Fears of rejection haunt even the most stable and solid personalities. Peoples’ brains are wired to look for rejection since avoiding it (developmentally) was a survival skill.
Personal affirmations are incredibly powerful. People remember if their boss noticed and mentioned something they did well. It builds connection and loyalty to the mission.
Remember, as a leader, you want to leave nothing about acceptance/rejection to the imagination of the employee. Some are too prone to expecting rejection or disapproval. You must counter this actively through your interaction (and workplace programs) to build a solid foundation of trust and good will.
People ultimately work for you, not just the mission of the organization. Your personal acceptance makes all the difference.
Tom DeMaio, PhD