The Workplace is NOT your Family

Arriving in Dubai in the mid 1990s to start a new job, I was greeted warmly by HR personnel, my supervisor, and finally, my new colleagues. The company paid for my family to re-locate half-way across the planet (with a nice stop-over in Asia), put us up in a 5-star hotel, and gave us cash to furnish a brand-new spacious apartment.

I felt the warm glow of gratitude and very much accepted as part of a family. And as in any family, I clearly understood and actioned the role and responsibilities inherent in my position.

I loved it – which explains how easy it has been to expand a one-time contract into 20 years.

Those feelings and perception more or less continued for a decade – wasn’t I lucky? And they were usually shared by almost everyone in the company I met.

Then, something changed.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time or event…but those feelings of familial warmth, of gratitude, of being a part of a close-knit family…well, they changed forever.

And over the next five-six years, a bitter truth emerged which took a while to explore, navigate and understand…

Workplaces are NOT families at all, at least not the one my spouse and I had created in our home with our children.

Our workplace became, in a short while, the worst form of a dysfunctional family you could ever imagine – suddenly, everyone felt undermined as top-down management decisions negatively impacted our working lives, and jealousies and petty feuds emerged, having laid dormant for years when individual employees collectively understood the rationale of “all for one, one for all”.

Senior managers ruthlessly smothered dissent and demanded compliance and conformity, facilitating an exodus of key personnel that grew into a torrent by the time I left.

Sound familiar?

As almost everyone reading this is now surely nodding their heads in agreement, I think the myth spread by senior managers that the workplace is a family is proven. There may exist some companies that value their employees enough to respect them as human beings but unfortunately, they are rare.

As a consequence, workplaces are now being seriously re-imagined and re-engineered by many corporations and companies who, quite rightly, are focussed on creating an environment that enhances individual performance.

This means offering greater flexibility in terms of time and space to employees that may produce a myriad of hybrid “work places” – an office, a car, bus, plane or train, a home or a combination of all locations – with employees choosing to work most productively early in the morning or late at night. Jason Fried spoke about this in a recent TED talk.

So, the next time you begin to feel those warm feelings at work, be cautious and remember – your boss is not some benign Father or Mother figure.

A crazy Aunt twice–removed…well, she might be far more preferable!

Post-script: I would invite everyone who reads this brief article to reply with their experiences and opinions on LinkedIn. Thank you.

Dr Peter J. Hatherley-Greene
Director of Learning, Emarise