If you want me as a loyal member of your company, you have to build a strong sense of belonging. If I don't feel included, why would I stay?
For someone like Geraldine Allinson, associate director of Kent Messenger Group, it is easy. She is the fourth generation to work in the business since 1859.
It's my family business. The Chairman is my father. I came to help out when the print union strikes hit us, just prior to Wapping, and I got the bug. I was supposed to study geography at university, but changed to do a business degree instead. After working on another newspaper group for experience, I came to KM, and I just love it.
Describing work as being like family is not uncommon in great companies and many organisations go out of their way to cultivate the culture experienced at Kent Messenger and Timpson. Those companies have a head start, since they really are family, but they still have to address the issue of building belonging for new people.
Flight Centre have been conscious of this need. Their structure breaks people into families (teams), villages (geographical teams that support each other) and tribes (areas). Couple this with their Statement of Egalitarianism and Unity in the Workplace:
In our company we believe that every individual should have equal privileges. We will never have separate offices, receptionists or secretaries. Promotion from within will always be our first choice. We believe that work should be challenging and fun for everyone. Within our company there is no ‘them and us'. We are all going forward together.
This is an exceptionally strong, inclusive statement and one that is played out in reality day by day.
Family at its best carries a strong feeling of belonging. Something in the blood tie elicits caring, despite different personalities and needs.
However strained relationships become, true families rally round in the bad times. They applaud success and are thrilled for us at those exciting turning points in life, pulling out all the stops to make sure we get what we need. Family is also a place of great challenge - when no one else will tell the truth, a sibling or parent will take us gently on one side for that difficult conversation, and it is not easy to get away with bad behaviour. Ensuring that children have a safe, healthy and secure life ahead is a strong driver to parents, leading to all those demands for hard work and endeavour that drive teenagers wild.
I do realise that this is idealistic and that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a family that provides and supports in this way. However, we all deserve and need it. Human beings are communal creatures - we want companionship and need to be included in a group with whom we feel at one. As more families become dispersed over the globe, so friends and work increasingly fill the gap. Which brings us back to great companies.