Daily Leadership Thought #121 – Employees Are Not Family

April 15, 2011

Free Business Women Having a Meeting Inside the Office Stock Photo

Don’t operate under the misconception that your employees should be treated like family.

Whenever I hear a business owner tell me his/her employees are like family I wince and get a bit nervous for them.  No matter how much you care for your employees they are not family members. Unless they are actually family members, which creates its own set of issues.

The very nature of the owner-employee relationship is that it is based on a transaction.  Employees receive a paycheck to fulfill their work responsibilities. If they do not perform these responsibilities, they become a liability and need to go.  In addition, very few employee relationships last a lifetime and even good people will eventually leave for other opportunities or life issues.  Moreover, employees aren’t children and to perpetuate a parent-child dynamic is inadvisable for them and you for many reasons.

I encourage my clients to think instead of their businesses as meritocracies where performance and attitude are rewarded. Employees should be expected to behave like adults.  If people are doing well, then treat them that way.  The more they prove themselves as diligent and competent, the more flexibility you give them.  Their compensation and other rewards should reflect the ongoing quality and outcomes of their work.  In addition, I’ve always believed that owners and bosses should spend most of their time with their top performers helping them get better, not with their problem people whereas the dynamic in a family is often quite the opposite (as often it should be).

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not advocating for a rigid, cold, and uncaring work environment.  People are not widgets and should be valued.  Supportive, caring, and loyal work cultures are still the way to go, but not at the expense of performance.  Friendship in the workplace is still a good thing.  However, I urge you not to confuse the issues of family and business. I’ve seen far too many people get burnt as a result.  They have held on to people much longer than they should have and it has done damage to their organization as a result.

The best thing you can do as a business owner is to surround your good people with other good people and remove their barriers to performance. Have high expectations and reward these results when they happen.  When it comes to non-performers and toxic people, move them out as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Your life as a business owner will get easier and you will have more time to spend with your real family.