May 13, 2011 | File under: On the Job
Sometimes, one’s work colleagues can feel like family. In small offices, or among close-knit groups in larger companies, people tend to form tight bonds that are either facilitated by the actual work performed, or simply by proximity to others and non-work socializing. These connections, when forged by the employees themselves, and having nothing to do with top-down management engineering, are authentic and really can mimic family bonds.
On the other hand, it is exceedingly irritating to me when companies (especially large, impersonal firms) latch on to this “work as family” concept in an insincere attempt to boost employee morale when morale is shown to be severely lacking. They publish glossy newsletters filled with smiling pictures of office birthday celebrations and numerous other suggestions that “we are all one, big happy family,” but behind all the overcompensating propaganda lies the truth that many people are truly unhappy in their jobs. It is all an illusion —- a gesture that masks the symptoms of disease without looking to its causes.
Sometimes, this tactic of creating an outward appearance of solidarity can be credited to crafty consultants companies hire when management becomes aware of internal problems leading to a breakdown in morale. These consultants are often marketing experts and their advice is naturally aimed at boosting the “brand” of the company to project an image of a happy workplace. I’ve seen this manifested in companies adopting “mission statements” attesting to their commitment to lofty values and a spirit of community, hosting company retreats as pep rallies with a few “brainstorming sessions” thrown in for good measure, and in publishing those inter-company newsletters filled with feel-good messages.
Although these gestures may be well-intentioned to foster a greater sense of community, they do nothing to rectify systemic problems within the company if not accompanied by management’s initiative to respond to employee’s feedback on the breakdown in morale. This often requires acknowledging a problem in the way people are treated and necessitates much more than lip-service to admirable values.
What it all comes down to is this: work is not family. While people within a company are often working towards a common goal of providing a service or product to clients in order to generate profits, employees are merely a means to that end. When a breakdown occurs within the company caused by waning morale and that breakdown begins to threaten the bottom line, management may take steps to improve morale to the extent it eases the threat on profits. The sincerity of this effort of course depends upon how dependent profits are on happy workers. Even so, this facade of “working together as a family” is not needed. A simple showing of responsiveness to problems giving rise to lagging morale is much more effective than an expensive propaganda campaign.