How (And Why) To Treat Your Employees As Family

People At A Window
Do you treat your employees like family?

I like to read biographies and some of the ones I read are about entrepreneurs. I just finished reading Quench Your Thirst by Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams. The beer I knew about, but I never really knew the story behind the beer. A few commercials I remember, but beyond that I didn’t have much curiosity.

The book is great. There are a lot of lessons and insight into running a successful company. Samuel Adams, or Boston Beer Company, has been through a lot in their thirty or so year history.

The company experienced growth early. Then they had a decade of stagnation. Jim mentioned that a few years it was 1% growth for the goal and if they hit that it was a very good year. That’s tough.

And in the last decade growth has picked up again, but not without issue especially a couple PR issues and a couple self-inflicted issues, but it’s been a really solid company.

Alright, so that’s a long winded overview of Samuel Adams, but the reason I bring it up is that throughout the book, Jim Koch talked about the culture of the company. He mentioned his own family a few times. Maybe he didn’t want to bring his personal life into the public too much, but he talked a lot about the family culture at Samuel Adams.

From Day 1, it was about family. He brought along a very trusted co-worker from his previous job in consulting to be with him as a partner in Boston Beer Company. He talked about her throughout the book even about how heartbreaking it was when she left the company. You could tell that this relationship and others were very important to Jim, but also to everyone in the company.

In our life we don’t get to choose our family in most cases. We can choose our spouse and that’s big, but beyond that we don’t get much choice.

In business, we get to choose. Who you choose and how you build a culture are critical to the success of your company.

Happy Employees & Employees First

Southwest Airlines is one of the darlings of the Good To Great series of business books. I think those are some of the best business books that you can read. You learn so much about what it takes to build and operate a successful business. And the interesting thing is that the leaders of the case companies often don’t even realize the key things they’re doing. They just do them.

Southwest was one of the companies that has been successful for the long-term. And it’s interesting to note that they put their employees first; even ahead of their customers.

At first it might not make sense, but if you think about it longer it makes a lot of sense.

Google has also famously treated its employees very well in terms of providing the basics of life like childcare, laundry, food and more.

The result of those two efforts are that employees are more productive, they’re happier, they treat customers better and more.

To me, it all sounds like Southwest and Google really treat their employees like family. And looking back on the Samuel Adams example they very much looked at employees all as one big family. They were careful about who they hired. It was like every hire was a new member of the family. And once you were in the company and those in the company would do almost anything for you.

Trust & Communication

A big reason why it’s good to treat employees like family is because you generally trust your family members more than anyone else in the world. They know you best. They’ve been there through everything. You can tell them something and you know you can trust what they’ll do with the information.

That type of communication is pretty rare. You obviously don’t have that relationship with every family member. Maybe it’s a friend that fits the role better, but that person is probably very much a family member in your eyes.

Jim Koch of Samuel Adams talked about a rule in their company. Anyone, at any point, can bring something up that’s bothering them to anyone on the executive team. They won’t be fired or anything like that, but they do have to explain the situation.

That kind of trust and communication is not all that common in business, but it’s healthy. That’s probably the relationship you have with family: spouse, children, parent, sibling, etc. You can tell them anything and it leads to improvements in the relationships.

More Positive Feedback Than Negative

Another thing that stuck out in the Jim Koch book was the idea of positive feedback. He’s not big on negative feedback even with the rule we just talked about. He knows that it’s important for information to have free flow, but he’s big on providing positive feedback.

That reminded me of growing up and getting positive feedback from my parents. They didn’t always tell me when I did something wrong especially when it wasn’t warranted, but when I did something well they would congratulate me. If I did something to make them proud like pick up a piece of litter on the sidewalk or work hard to do well on a test, they would let me know.

Jim Koch did that at Samuel Adams. He made sure to tell people when they did a good job. That’s similar to how families work and it really reinforces the things you want your team to do and they will continue to do it if they know that you like it and that others appreciate it.

Family Is There During Difficult Times

It’s been a difficult week for the folks at Moz. Rand Fishkin commented on the changes at the company on Twitter. He’s always been very transparent and open with the public about things going on with himself and with his company. I’ve admired him, not only as a person, but for his expertise in business and marketing for a long time. I think I first came across the SEOmoz blog around 2008 and I know many others have read the blog over the years and well before I found it.

Moz made a bet to expand into other areas a few years ago. Now they’re going back to their core: SEO. Hey, they tried something and it didn’t work out. They’re still moving forward. But they do have to let a lot of people go and that’s obviously tough. It’s not something companies like doing. It’s painful for all involved. But it happens. That’s life.

You can really tell that Moz is like a family. I haven’t really heard negative things being said about Moz from the employees, past or present. It seems like they treat their team, past and present, as a family. Maybe not everyone gets along, but they’re always there for each for all variations of support.

It really shows in the difficult times just how much of a family your business is. If you have a family you can better make it through difficult times. And every business unfortunately goes through times like this.

How To Treat Employees Like Family

Hopefully the examples throughout this article have provided some insight into how to treat employees like family, but here a few more keys:

Listen, ask questions and provide nonjudgmental understanding. The best relationships are those when people are comfortable sharing anything with you. That takes real listening skills. If your employees feel like they can tell you anything there will be an incredible trust.

Know the entire person. It’s one thing to leave business at the office and home life at home. You don’t need to know every detail about your employees, but it’s good to know them on a personal life. Care about what their hobbies are. Ask about their families. Get to know them. Their histories. Their desires and goals.

Be there for them. Everybody goes through difficult times. Being there for people when they’re having difficult is a key to being like family to them.


Life is really about the relationships we have. Relationships are a key component of how enjoyable and fulfilling our lives are. And since we spend so much or our lives working it’s important that our work relationships are positive. Treating your employees like family is the best approach for you, for your employees and for your business. Hopefully the insight here can help you setup a family culture at your company.

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