How Family Dynamics Can Affect Workplace Performance

Through interactions with their parents and siblings, people form opinions about the world around them that they will likely carry all of their lives. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the family dynamics a person experienced in childhood can have a serious impact on how that person later interacts with her or her boss and other coworkers. Often, through a process that psychologists call “transference,” people cast their coworkers into roles from their childhood and re-enact the same sorts of situations they experienced as children. Here are some ways that transference and childhood experiences can affect workplace decisions and performance.

Relationships with Parents

Parent-child relationships are most commonly reenacted through superior-subordinate working relationships. If a person had a parent who supported their childhood accomplishments and praised and rewarded them appropriately, they may seek that same relationship with a boss. This is good for the company because it makes the employee self-motivated and eager to do his or her best work. An employee who had a parent who was never satisfied, however, might expect his or her boss to act the same way and might have any number of responses to this perceived failure. This can engender strain in workplace relationships.

Sibling Relationships

Firstborn children often prefer hierarchical organizations, while children born later in the birth order may prefer careers which require innovation and change. This can affect both career choice and how a person does his or her job. Additionally, the closeness and quality of sibling relationships can be influential in either a positive or negative way. People who were close to their siblings may try to create a similar closeness with their coworkers as they experience a sense of common destiny and identity. Those who had contentious relationships with their siblings may replicate these interactions with coworkers. Just like sibling rivalry, some degree of rivalry among coworkers is healthy and drives everyone to do their best. Too much rivalry, however, can lead to backstabbing and a lack of trust and camaraderie that is unhealthy in the workplace.

Family Values

Families teach children all sorts of skills that they will need later in life and this affects how these children approach problems when they grow up. Some families value achievement and therefore produce children who are driven to achieve. Methods of rewarding and punishing subordinates may also be learned from how parents rewarded and punished their children.

External Family Factors

If an employee moved frequently as a child, he or she is likely to be more comfortable with traveling for work or handling rapid changes in the workplace. Family status in the community can also impact workplace performance. If employees feel that they came from “the wrong side of the tracks,” this can sometimes motivate them. Other times, they may feel unworthy or have a destructive competitiveness.

While family dynamics certainly play a role in later interactions, the way in which these interactions affect each employee varies. There is no clear indicator that someone will be a success or a failure at their job, but when workplace dynamics are difficult to understand, looking into a person’s past might be a good place to start.


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