Love at first sight
It begins when the CEO (mother) meets the co founder (father). A love around an idea binds them to the point where they decide to spend the most time with each other compared to any relationship in our current western culture (marriage). They share their hopes and dreams and move in together into their first home (office). It is not much at first. A basement, a windowless room, but it does not matter, because they are happy. Then at a networking event after party, they meet their first employee (child). This employee is attracted, maybe because in het previous job she was stuck in a cubicle doing non creative things, and now these two parents promise a free world full of wonder and joy and say ‘join us, not as a number on a sheet, but as a member of our family’. This is how she got adopted.
They are poor but they are happy. Everyday they decide how to live their own lives. ‘We are going to do it differently’ they say. Not like our previous jobs (grandparents). So the journey starts. They adopt two more children in the next year and an uncle (freelancer). They have chosen each other based on values and a need for freedom. They are happy, or… are they?
Bonded by blood
We do not choose our parents, siblings or aunts and uncles. I feel like in this modern life there is an ongoing complaint that we just have to do with the family we get at birth. Having said that I also see a trend where people try and find their own, non blood related, family. This to make sure that Christmas is spend with your friends with whom you have a deep connection instead of with your relatives that may have annoyed you since birth. A place where the trend to replace family by blood with an artificial one seems particularly strong in the startup world.
CEO’s all around the world talk about their startup family where contracts are based on trust, work hours on honesty and pay on fairness.The startup CEO tries to do something more humane. He or she treats the employees as family. He knows their hobbies and together they participate in the survival that is growing a startup. This as a counter culture also to the big corporations who sometimes have reduced their employees to numbers on a sheet.
In the end
In the end it is very possible that the same problems start to arise as in a usual family. Specifically since the same behaviour is set at the beginning. A few key promises or values seem to be: honesty, safety, loyalty and trust. Words that are often used to describe the ‘perfect’ family. The reason I use quotes on the work perfect is because a lot of families like to believe they have these values but in reality it might be different. Why does this happen? Why do we set out to create something ‘better’ only to create a paradox where eventually the opposite happens. So yes, you can walk around in the office and express your emotions but it might hinder action since you are given a freebee to not ‘feel’ like working. This can be good in certain situations to lower stress but in others there is a deadline that is coming up and that ‘thing’ needs to happen right now. Also, fully expressing and attaching yourself seems to work best in an environment that is made safe. Safety does not come into existence simply because one preaches ‘you can express yourself here’. Creating security for exploration in a family happens by attention as a parent. In Mary Ainsworth’s (1971, 1978) ‘observational study of individual differences in attachment’ it clearly shows how children respond to an unsafe environment. In the experiment a mother leaves the child alone or with a stranger and creates an unsafe environment and the baby starts crying immediately only to be consolidated by the mother.
I feel that one of the reasons why creating a family environment is followed by the same challenges as a family by blood is… drumroll please… because we are humans. Yes yes, I know that seems like a cliche but that might be why at companies we tend to digress from what is human. Sometimes with a positive outcome where conflict is deflected since people understand that it is important to be professional and sometimes with a negative outcome where employees feel like there is no opportunity to be themselves.
But what is your point Joppe?
My point is that, while I believe it is important to create a safe space at work for people to express themselves it is equally important to know when to be professional. As a ex sociotherapist I also think this is a great way on how to improve actual family life (bonded by blood). Being human, seems to me, is as much about expressing yourself fully as it is at maintaining control. Expressing yourself fully is creative, fun and passionate and controlling yourself is safety, long term planning and investment.
I would not argue for a company that mimics a family nor would I argue for a company that mimics the opposite. To be sustainable and innovative in the future we need both. As with all things in life, in the end, it is about perfect balance.
I have linked here the Mary Ainsworth’s (1971, 1978) observational study of individual differences in attachment: https://www.simplypsychology.org/mary-ainsworth.html