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Compliments of Photomatt28 via Flickr

In the sitcom “Cheers,” people gathered nightly in the corner bar to reminisce, share stories, and build friendships. “Cheers,” was a place “where everybody knows your name, and you’re always glad you came.” Is this the way you feel about work?

Some workplaces house a type of “extended family,” in which people feel connected, engaged, and a part of a larger community. Ultimately, these unique work environments are places where people feel respected and valued for their contributions. In collectivist cultures the workplace is considered a part of the extended family, a type of “corporate communalism” where workers are expected to take care of one another.

In Mexico, this concept manifests in a boss who is considered “el patron,” or “the father” who attends to both the workplace and personal needs of his employees. In the USA relationships at work have become so transactional, so businesslike, and so impersonal that we don’t consider the importance of social network inclusion, or the primary need of people to belong.

To create a “family feeling” at work:

  • Cut people some slack. If workers feel that every minor infraction will result in punitive action, they will likely avoid you (along with their peers), especially when “tattling” is the corporate norm. Don’t put people in the uneasy position of feeling that you’re about to lower the boom.
  • Plan company events. These can range from luncheons to picnics, and in the extreme to outdoor team building activities. One of my students suggested having “international luncheons,” which serve the dual purpose of building camaraderie and learning about others’ cultures. Note that ignorance and stereotypes perpetuate in an atmosphere of non-information.
  • Instead of being an authoritarian taskmaster, try acting more like what Manz and Sims term the “unleader:” e.g., a coach, cheerleader, and facilitator who runs interference for the group. 
  • Do something special and unexpected – a card, congratulatory note, personal visit, or small gift. I can guarantee you that people will both remember and appreciate your effort.
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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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