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Lessons From Family Life That Strengthen Workplace Culture

This article was based on episode 130 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get Dave’s list of 50 Ideas for an Incredible Workplace when you become a member at

In a 2019 research study,139,00 employees at the top 346 workplaces were asked to write what they loved about their jobs in 100 words or less. Dave Schramm, a Utah State University professor, wanted to understand what it was about those top workplaces that made them stand out. Sure enough, as he analyzed the results, certain key words came up again and again. Along with “team”, “culture” and “values”, the ninth most popular word was “family”.

Dave studies family relationships and translates his findings into leadership lessons. His approach draws a direct connection between the fundamental human needs that are typically met through family and how managers can meet those needs to create a culture where employees love to go to work.


According to Dave, the three fundamental needs that humans have in family are safety, satisfaction, and connection.

The Need for Safety

Humans desire both physical and emotional safety. Physical safety may include earning a large enough paycheck to pay the bills, while emotional safety involves feeling comfortable enough to speak out without fear of retribution.

In order to create a feeling of safety at work, managers need to build a foundation of trust. One way to develop trust is to create opportunities for employees to safely open up about their ideas and concerns. Some ways of doing this include Feedback Fridays, a suggestion box, or even an open forum. Dave also suggests managers ask their employees directly about what would help them feel more supported, especially during the COVID19 pandemic.

The Need For Satisfaction

All of us are born with a desire to move towards rewards, pleasure and positivity. At home, we accomplish this by doing things that bring joy or happiness. At work, we experience satisfaction through professional development opportunities that stretch and grow our talents or move us forward in our career.

Managers can help their team members find satisfaction by connecting them with opportunities aligned with their professional goals.

The Need For Connection

“Longing for belonging” is a deep craving for connection that children have with parents, also referred to as attachment. In the best workplaces, employees have a deep sense that they belong.

As Dave illustrates in his Connection/Direction/Correction Pyramid, when managers first focus on building connection, their team members are more receptive to direction and ultimately corrective or constructive feedback. When managers attempt to give correction before providing adequate direction or building authentic connection, the recipient can be overly defensive or unwilling to learn.

Dave teaches that fundamentally, connection is created by gratitude and care. In one study, when people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more effective and productive. In addition to recognition, when employees feel valued and cared for, their productivity and effectiveness increases by 43%. In order for many employees to feel truly cared for, the relationship cannot be transactional. Managers must connect with their team members on a personal level. This is often done by asking about someone’s life outside of work - their hobbies, pets, etc. and sharing about your own life.

Focus On The Positive

We're five times more likely to notice mistakes than to point out the positives. Strong managers notice and celebrate their team members’ strengths accomplishments. Dave suggests incorporating a “Good News Minute” at the start of every meeting, where you begin with positive news of what’s going well, whether it’s in the office or in your personal lives.


Of course, when mistakes are made at work, managers must respond. The important thing is to be intentional with how you respond when your employees misstep.

Forgive Mistakes Swiftly

A hallmark of strong families is they are quick to forgive. In the office, people need to be held accountable, but the manager’s response should be growth-minded and supportive rather than punitive. Just like in sports, when a referee quickly blows the whistle to signal a violation, the goal is to get the game going back as quickly as possible instead of focusing blame on the player.

Praise in Public, Correct in Private

No one wants to be embarrassed or mocked. To ensure emotional safety, discuss problems in private. Make sure to collect all of the information beforehand rather than just reacting. Ask your team member what they thought went wrong and what they could do better next time.

Discuss Consequences Ahead Of Time

Most managers avoid thinking or talking about consequences, but it can be helpful to engage your team member in a discussion about the natural consequences of missed deadlines or work quality that isn’t up to standards.


Work culture is created from small, simple experiences building on each other over time. When employees experience consistent acts of compassion from their manager, the culture forms into one of loyalty and trust. Research shows a direct positive correlation between the experience of kindness from leaders and the employee’s loyalty.

When we experience a work environment that fosters safety, satisfaction, and connection, we thrive. As managers, it’s heartening to know that creating a sense of attachment and belonging is possible if we are diligent about setting up opportunities for open forums, skill-advancement, and managing the negative while focusing on the positive. The idea of a “work family” isn’t just a sweet saying, it’s a manager’s obligation.


Get Dave’s list of 50 Ideas for an Incredible Workplace when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 130 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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