Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

E-Alerts: Organizational Effectiveness Archives

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What Do Romance And Workplace Productivity Have In Common?

July 2006

Research by a number of academics has shown that how parents and their children interact has a large influence on the child's romantic relationships and how they develop and maintain close relationships. In her Wall Street Journal column Work & Family (July 13, 2006), Sue Shellenbarger quotes W. Andrew Collins, Professor in the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development and the lead researcher on a 30 year study as well as Brent Donnelian, a psychology professor at Michigan State university who conducted a five year study, and Nancy Darling, an Oberlin College psychology professor.

What does this have to do with organizational effectiveness? Think about it: The very behaviors that sustain personal/romantic relationships can translate to more effective working relationships that promote trust and keep people engaged, motivated and happy.

The key factors in the way parents treat and relate to their children according to the researchers named above are whether parents:

  • practice straightforward, good communication techniques
  • show respect (and liking);* teach kids to resolve conflicts well and how to argue rationally;
  • show interest in teens' activities;
  • set good limits;
  • set appropriate parent-child boundaries, (e.g., don't try to be your children's buddy) or have them take over the parental role);
  • are warm and nurturing;
  • show children to be mindful of how others are feeling; and
  • avoid fostering feelings of rejection.


If these behaviors are modeled, studies indicate that children will reproduce good relationship skills.

On the other hand, we have also seen in the workplace evidence of a sort of “abused child syndrome” in treatment of junior colleagues and sometimes spilling over to poor client relationships. That is, people who have been treated in some abusive or disrespectful way, no matter how hurtful it is, have a documented tendency to treat others, particularly their juniors, in the same destructive ways. While some firms are paying more attention and cracking down on such behaviors, they still are tolerated too often, especially if from significant business generators. (We can guess that those people may act similarly in their personal lives and maybe even with some clients.)

While the workplace is not and shouldn't be a parent substitute, people spend more time with their work colleagues than with their families and friends. Poor relationship habits often develop and go unchecked when people are stressed and pressed for time, when interpersonal behavior is not a highly valued item in performance evaluations, and when there is no training for dealing with the transgressions or preventing them.

As important as many of the relationship skills listed above were in developing and retaining needed professional talent in previous years, it is more urgent now to apply them in the workplace to shape the youngest employees. They come from an upbringing so child-centric that many may not have been given appropriate limits and boundaries. Further, they are likely to have received the message that they are immune to criticism. I have been hearing numerous stories in addition to my own observations that signal trouble ahead.

So it's time to focus attention on those personal relationship skills required of parents, not to encourage romance in the office, but rather to assure productive working relationships by treating people respectfully and clearly communicating expectations and boundaries (to those to whom they are not obvious). Neither over-protection nor the sink-or-swim on your own approach is likely to work these days for firms with their new recruits.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2006. All rights reserved.