How Does the Family’s Opinion of the Job Impact Workplace Performance?

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I bow to The Wall Street Journal’s expertise and insight as a daily business publication, but when it comes to covering workplace and HR issues, well, they sometimes tend to come up a little short.

Here’s the most recent example: an all-too-brief blog post this week (it linked to a longer Journal article from September) that touched on a pretty important issue: how your family’s opinion of your job affects your workplace performance.

Here’s the crux of what the Journal said:

A recent WSJ “Running a Business” column asserts that the most effective way to woo an employee isn’t through perks like bonuses or prime parking spaces, but through your spouse and family.

The piece argues that common motivational methods only push employees to win prizes and don’t build coveted employee loyalty. In order to get workers emotionally invested, and thereby get a better performance out of them, bosses need to get the spouse and kids in their corner. Among the column’s recommendations: Bosses should woo families at the get-go, starting with a fun-filled first day on the job to create a sparkling first impression that is likely to be passed along at home.

While this sounds good in theory, the problem is that family members rarely know the full picture of what our jobs are really like. I know that I’m more likely to vent about my workplace with my husband than I am to sing its praises, even though for the most part, I really love my job. Because he usually hears the (few) bad things, rather than the (many) good things, his picture of my workplace is pretty skewed.”

I certainly know first hand that family members don’t know the full picture of what are jobs are like, but really, does anyone? Although I’ve had far more good bosses than bad, I’ve had a couple who didn’t seem to have the foggiest notion of what I did or any appreciation of the challenges I faced in doing it — and they were walking around the office every day.

Building “coveted employee loyalty?”

But the thing that really stuck me as odd in this Journal story was the premise that organizations needed to “build coveted employee loyalty.” Huh? Did I turn into Rip Van Winkle, dose off for 20 years, and just dream that employee loyalty was dead and that businesses and organizations everywhere are holding the smoking gun? Didn’t employee engagement go from THE hot HR topic to also-ran status as companies hit workers with salary freezes, pay cuts, furloughs, and layoffs as the recession ran on? And didn’t many organizations stop worrying about engagement since most employees were just grateful to have a job?

Okay, that’s issue No. 1 I have with the WSJ writing about this topic, but they missed the boat on the bigger issue as well: the impact an employee’s family can have on how they feel about their employer.

The WSJ’s “Running a Business” column made a case for a fun-filled first day on the job, but honestly, that’s terribly impractical. Most new hires are in a fog the first week (or two, or three) while they try to just figure out the basics. In fact, I think most new employees would be happy with just getting the first-day/week orientation and training they need to get up to speed and working quickly.

A fun-filled first day on the job also strikes me as something that becomes both a chore for someone to put on (are you following this HR staff?), and, oddly our-of-synch with the regular flow of work. Unless fun-filled wooing of the family is something that goes on all the time, doing it the first day of work simply sets the bar at an unreasonable level for later.

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Bringing families into a larger circle of events

What makes more sense is for organizations to bring the families of employees into the larger circle of organizational events — holiday parties, summer events, key employee milestones that call for a ceremony or presentation. That, along with employee-friendly policies that balance the needs of all workers (even those without families, or with non-traditional partners and family units) makes a lot more sense.

I’ve worked a lot of different places and seen a lot of different approaches to how bosses (and their larger organizations) handle workers and their families. Somewhat surprisingly, the companies that were either family owned or that touted themselves as family oriented were probably the worst in dealing with the families of their employees.

And this isn’t something that dawned on me until my wife mentioned it. She noted, when I left a previous employer, that the company never, ever welcomed family members to any of their events despite being a family-owned and operated company.

Now, they were pretty generous in their benefit offerings as it pertained to employees with traditional families, but spouses, partners, or significant others were never invited to the annual Christmas party or any other company event. My wife’s attitude, when I quit, was that “it’s hard to feel any sense of loss leaving them when they didn’t do much to get to know me, or you, as someone other than a name in the company phone book.”

I think about that sometimes, and it makes me understand that how organizations deal with employees and their families is an important topic worthy of a broader discussion, but touting silly first-day-of-work stunts that somehow will “build coveted employee loyalty” isn’t the answer. I doubt you’ll read anything about THAT anytime soon in The Wall Street Journal.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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