Does 'parenting' leadership work?

Large corporations are offering exceptional perks by way of caring for their workforce. But does this 'parenting' leadership style keep a work family happy, or is it a step too far?

Working environments have shifted in recent years. Take Google. Free food, bringing dogs to work and $12,000 towards tuition costs are just a few perks 'Googlers' enjoy. While at companies such as Netflix and Virgin staff are rewarded with unlimited holidays.

Working longer or working better?

The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours. It’s little wonder then that some businesses are looking to create better working environments for their staff.

Much like parents providing their children with everything they need - and more - these big companies are investing in and nurturing their 'children' to ensure their place of work is a happier one.

A more grown-up way of working     

Ironically, by treating their 'children' so well, it seems that a more grown-up, independent way of working is emerging. One that replaces super strict time keeping policies, and realises that not everyone works to the same rhythm.

Some people need the structure and discipline of a nine to five day. Others are more productive in the evenings, or thrive working to music. Clearly not all businesses can be so flexible about their working patterns. But for those that can, playing to their employee’s strengths and focusing on quality instead of quantity, can really get results.

Read: Finding the balance between your work family and your real one

Happier people boost productivity

Research from the Department of Economics at Warwick University shows that being happy makes people 12 per cent more productive at work.

The study also found that because of Google’s investment in the emotional wellbeing of its staff, employee satisfaction rose by 37 per cent.

Perks or parental control?

Political economist William Davies questions the reasons behind the amazing perks on offer by the likes of Google in his book The Happiness Industry. He suggests that if we look closer, they are a move to make employees more loyal, so that they’ll never want to leave.

Do such corporations genuinely care about their work family, or are they using a form of parental control to make employees more dependent on the business? The lines are blurred.

But as Google cements its position as the number one place to work for the seventh time in a decade, their model is clearly working.

What about family businesses?

Over half of UK independent small businesses are now run by families, suggesting that the family dynamic plays an important role in our working lives. While family-run businesses may not have the financial means to compete with big corporate perks, they bring a different type of parenting to the workplace.

Husband and wife team Nik & Carole, head up a design agency in Manchester. They proudly operate as a work family committed to developing and nurturing their team.

"As a small team, we think of our staff as part of our extended work family. It helps us all to knit together and for the atmosphere in the office to be good," says Managing Director Carole Haralambous.

As mentors to their staff, including their daughter and Carole’s sister, they are conscious of striking a balance and treating all their work family fairly.

"We try to take the younger ones under our wings and nurture them as they grow into their roles, imparting knowledge and skills that will set them up for the future," she explains. "The older ones are more independent, but we still oversee what they do.”

Read: Encourage your team to bring their family to work

Raising a spoilt workforce

Of course, there are downsides to parenting at work. One of them perhaps is over parenting and doing too much for staff.

"We sometimes molly coddle our staff, so they have less to do. Or make things easier for them. A bit like spoilt children!" says Haralambous.

William Davies argues that employees want to be treated like grown ups and keep work as work. While Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction, an online customer engagement community platform, suggests that it’s not about treating employees as children, but as whole people who feel appreciated and supported.  

Whatever approach companies take, surely caring for the wellbeing of your work family can only make a business stronger.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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