We need to treat colleagues like family to succeed at work

Rather than leave our personal lives at the door, we should take inspiration from our home relationships and apply them in the workplace

Earlier this year, Professor Robert Kelly became an internet sensation when his children walked in on a live interview with the BBC that he was recording at home. While this was comical, I believe it represents the secret to getting the most out of work and life: to move beyond the notion of setting boundaries between the two, and focus on the higher motives that guide both.

For many leaders, traditional work-life balance seems unrealistic. We can never really ‘switch off’ completely. Our work follows us home and our home follows us to work – particularly if we are passionate about that work.

However, if you look closely, there are opportunities where our personal and professional lives can enrich and support each other, creating ‘one life’. Why keep these things apart when the success of one is intrinsically tied to the success of the other?

Here are a few ideas about how leveraging aspects of personal lives, particularly our family dynamics, can benefit our professional lives and reinvigorate our organisations.

1. Spend quality time together

Spending quality time together can yield incredible benefits for you and your family, and it can also have benefits in the workplace. Employees who get six hours per week with their managers are 29 per cent more inspired, 30 per cent more engaged and 16 per cent more innovative, according to Leadership IQ.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to meet with employees and colleagues as you would a family – from group sessions to one-on-one settings, lunch meetings and coffee breaks.

2. Harness the power of positivity

A good parent is quick to praise their children’s achievements and help them develop with thoughtful feedback. The same should go for your response to team members. Giving meaningful, timely feedback or praise is a sign that you are committed to growth and success.

When a colleague contributes something, accept and build on it positively. We can choose encouraging words – as we would use with a family member – that leave room for dialogue, risk-taking and creativity.

3. Collaborate, communicate, care

Whether in a family or an organisation, when we live and work in isolation we don’t get the benefits that come from working together and supporting one another. In fact, quite the opposite – this can result in fractured relationships and disharmony.

Managers need to look hard at whether they are using a shared office space to communicate and collaborate like a family would, based on a foundation of trust, listening and understanding. Are you roommates or family?

4. Appreciate differences

Even when a group of people is related by genetics, the differences between each individual are abundant. As a father of four I am amazed by the different personalities and characteristics of each of my children.

Instead of letting teams become frustrated by different working styles (which is common), leaders can breed appreciation among employees for the unique things each person brings to the group. Self-awareness breeds other-awareness, and both enable success.

5. Set realistic expectations

When they were young, I promised my children that I would never be away for more than four ‘sleeps’ at any one time, and would work away only one weekend day per month. Often in our work life we are too quick to commit to something without establishing expectations among our colleagues and clients, which can lead to us disappointing team members or burning out by taking on too much.

As you would in a family, aim to build long-term relationships in the workplace based on trust, where expectations are realistic and clear.

In one context I’m a CEO and in the other I’m a ‘dad’; both roles teach me lessons that benefit one another.

We ask our people to ‘bring their whole selves to work’ because we want people to realise the best version of themselves. By constantly trying to keep one part of life away from the other, we stifle ourselves, which is a shame because our ability to bring our whole selves to everything we do is what enables success.

There’s an old adage that we ‘work to live’ – ie, that if we didn’t have to pay for all the costs of life, we wouldn’t work. There’s also a saying that some people (when they don’t have balance) ‘live to work’. Neither of those are ideal. At the end of the day, we ‘live to live’, and working is a natural part of that life. 

Andy Lothian is chief executive and head of people at Insights Learning and Development