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Steven Mundahl is the president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries in western Massachusetts and the author of The Alchemy of Authentic Leadership.
Steven Mundahl is the president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries in western Massachusetts and the author of The Alchemy of Authentic Leadership.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Treat your employees like family and watch them grow Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Trying to keep home life and work life separate is like attempting to ride a bicycle with one tire. We take home concerns to work and work issues home with us all the time. The wise company choice is to accept this fact and endeavour to create an inviting and more nurturing work environment that integrates these two worlds.

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The concept of “family” transforms one’s organization into a caring group of family members, in a supportive environment, all working for a common good. A hierarchy continues to exist, but it is much more aligned to the hierarchy in families than the organizational chart that exists in business.

Here are some suggestions that forward-thinking companies are using to foster a more nurturing family environment at work:

1. Create family time to spark discussion

In families, members come together once a day for conversation over a morning or evening meal. It’s a time families use to catch up on what’s going on in everyone’s lives, share news, and voice concerns. Like the breakfast or dinner setting at home, this could be hosting coffee hour at work or even planning a lunch-in for a group of employees to spend time with their leadership team members.

2. Create a supportive mentor network

In families, it isn’t always the parent who performs the role of a mentor. Often it’s an older sister or brother or even a grandparent who steps in to offer advice and support, and to deal with concerns of other family members. Newer members of one’s company-family could have a mentor assigned to them. In times of personal crisis, such as divorce, death, or illness, family members bond, support, and strengthen each other, but often in company settings, we fail to recognize this vital area of connection.

3. Incorporate family behaviour

When leaders distance themselves from the term employees and use the word family instead, relationship dynamics change within companies.

Family members don’t “write up” other family members; they support and nurture when they can. Discipline can be constructive rather than punitive. Family members don’t “fire” other family members without just cause or a chance at remediation. Healthy families find ways of connecting, even in times of duress and poor performance.

If a separation is needed between the company and a work family member, it should be presented in a beneficial and mutually understood process based upon data and experience. Interviews could even be performed while walking in a nearby park, where all parties could be less nervous and more spontaneous. The only reason these choices aren’t being exercised is because of tradition and negatively held beliefs that could be changed by forward-thinking leadership.

4. Encourage competitive play

Competition is a key part of family dynamics. The same is true in the workplace. When we exercise – particularly when we are having fun – our problem-solving abilities increase dramatically, as does our emotional health. One could erect a basketball hoop in the parking lot, or a volleyball net on the lawn. There are also non-aerobic ways to have healthy competition, such as sponsoring a contest for the best holiday card to send to clients, or hosting a trivia contest between departments. Nothing is worse than working at a desk in isolation, or staring into a computer screen for hours at a time. It’s not healthy for our bodies, our minds, our spirits, or our emotional well-being.

These suggestions are not difficult to put into place. Leaders might seek help and input from key staff members, however, as this takes a bit of cheerleading and planning. Leaders don’t always have the time for such key changes. Be sure to get your leadership team on board; everyone needs to embrace the changes.

Steven Mundahl (@StevenMundahl) is the president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries (@GoodwillIntl) in western Massachusetts and the author of The Alchemy of Authentic Leadership.

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