Should Management Foster a Sense of Family?

As a manager, you may have encouraged staff to think of the workplace as a family. But have you ever stopped to consider the downside of this idea?

In the previous blog I took a stab at the notion of ‘we’re like a family here’ — I shared the observation that in workplaces where incivility is rampant, staff often use the ‘family’ notion as a fig leaf that enables people to treat each other in incivil ways. A reader from Ottawa immediately wrote to me, saying: “I always felt uneasiness at hearing that ‘we’re like a family here’ coming from management.  I like to know that there are boundaries where I work and that there should be respect and a level of professionalism”.

This reader’s comment highlights an important point: from a leadership perspective, I suggest practicing extra care when you encourage your people to think of the workplace as a family. Fostering close bonds amongst employees is both laudable and useful. In fact, it is one of the best ways to boost employee engagement and retain your best people, especially in organizations where there are resilience-eroding demands on employees or financial remuneration is low.

However, touting the family notion will lead you into risky terrain in a hurry. It can inadvertently erode your people’s sense of safety. Employees need to know that management understands what healthy boundaries mean and that their leaders will protect them from any behaviour that diminishes their sense of dignity.

So next time you sing the workplace-as-family hymn, think twice about crafting the notes with great clarity, such that will ensure that your people will be able to join the tune with perfect harmony.


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