9 - to - 5 FAMILIES The roles many people play at work are relative

May 09, 1991|By Mary Corey

Somewhere between the wedding cake and the rendition of "I Love You Truly," guests at Angel Jackson and Jeff Haas' nuptials decided they had never attended anything like it.

Never before had they seen a couple exchange wedding bands resembling misshapen paper clips. Or a minister wear a graduation gown during a marriage ceremony -- backward, no less. And why was it taking place in a Towson State University boardroom anyway?

The blessed event was a hoax staged by the couple's colleagues in TSU's admissions office, who had overheard the two jokingly promise to marry each other if they turned 25 and hadn't found spouses.

"We're like an extended family," explains Lynn Collins, the admissions director who oversees the close-knit group, some of whom have known each other 20 years.

While some people may call the 9-to-5 routine just a way to make a living, this group -- and others like it -- considers it a family affair. They halt staff meetings to hug colleagues just back from business trips and exchange secrets they won't even share with their real spouses and siblings.

To many psychologists and management consultants, turning co-workers into moms and dads, brothers and sisters is a natural tendency. And as American families grow more fragmented and work hours increase, the office is becoming more a home away from home.

"Family is the first thing we know, so we replicate it," says Paula Bernstein, author of "Family Ties, Corporate Bonds." Although she has worked for a variety of organizations -- including newspapers, universities and a pharmaceutical corporation -- she has watched the parent-child model occur in every one.

"In the world of work, I found that people behaved as if they were in a family. In every office there was the daddy, the spoiled child, the brat and usually the favorite son," she says.

Harry Levinson, a psychologist with nearly 40 years experience in the field, concurs. "Unconsciously, people are acting toward those in power as they learned to act toward their parents," says Dr. Levinson, president of the Levinson Institute in Cambridge, Mass., a group of management consultants.

But while researchers may agree that the relationship exists, they disagree about whether blending personal lives and careers is in the best interest of the corporation or its employees.

Critics charge that work and family simply don't mix. Trying to turn the office into a home leads to a condescending environment that impedes productivity and detracts from professionalism, they say.

Adherents, however, claim it's unavoidable. People today often spend more time with co-workers than their spouses or children. creating a family-like atmosphere, employees, in fact, are more successful at completing their tasks -- and do so with greater interest and enthusiasm, this group says.

"We're all human beings," explains Rose Marie Coughlin, executive director of Maryland New Directions, a non-profit career counseling agency in Charles Village. "People bring their needs with them to work. If you're in a home situation where you lack certain relationships, you seek them at work."

A boss' management style, however, often determines whether the group will be one big, happy family or a big, dysfunctional one. "If you have an authoritarian father, it can be a disaster," says Ms. Bernstein. "If you have a nurturing father, a man who delegates and wants to treat the children as grown-ups, that's quite different."

Frequently, Dr. Levinson says, the roles people play at home are TC the exact ones they repeat in their jobs.

"First-borns are very heavily identified with parents. They tend to have severe consciences and go from [age] 5 to 25 in one fell swoop. That's why a great number of them end up executives," '' he says. Second-born children, though, often have to work harder to get their parents' attention and may wind up in people-oriented professions like sales and politics, he adds.

For Peggy Bonovich, being a mother to two children at home and a mother to 70 employees in the general operating room of Greater Baltimore Medical Center is a daunting task. Many of the problems she witnesses at home she often sees repeated at work.

"The operating room is very much like a family. The children fight among themselves, but as soon as someone attacks them they defend each other. They have a lot of sibling rivalry [over] who may be getting top billing in their own circles. We have to discuss it every now and then," says Ms. Bonovich, 40, the clinical manager of the unit.

In the past year, GBMC introduced a policy of "shared governance," which makes employees more directly involved in the decision-making policy; consequently, she has faced the challenge of going from the mother figure to big sister.

"Certainly, it's easier to say to a child, 'This is the way we're going to do it,' " she says. "That's why we're having some bickering back and forth. We're kind of unclear about what our roles are."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.