Organization or ‘Family’?

Should any organization position itself as a ‘family’?

In May last year, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, had to ‘virtually’ look thousands of his employees in their eyes, as his own welled up with emotion, amidst what Chesky referred to as “this most harrowing crisis of our lifetime.” He then announced that “nearly 1900 teammates will have to leave Airbnb.”  This was a quarter of the workforce.

Amongst various other key messages and gratitude notes, Chesky also shared, “The human part was always more important than the travel part. What we are about is belonging, and at the center of belonging is love.” Now, read the last 2 lines again with the ears and state of mind of an axed Airbnb employee.

Given the unusual pandemic circumstances, we can also understand how unimaginably painful this action would be for any leader. In this case study, a narrative ensued where companies positioning themselves as ‘family’ were being suddenly faced with the harsh reality of layoffs.

The question is not about the head – which realistically reminds the employee of the clear distinction between company and family (unless for example, it’s a family-owned enterprise). The larger consideration is the heart and also when emotions take over, as in this case – ‘unfairly’ losing a job. When fear, pain, or anger triggers and hijacks the amygdala.

Organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant, in an independent tweet: “The rhetoric about a company being a family is not realistic. Parents don’t fire or furlough their children to cut costs. Leaders would be better off calling their company a community: a place where people feel a sense of belonging and care about one another.”

What are your thoughts or stories?
Should organizations position themselves as ‘family’?

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