What is Paternalism?

Definition: Paternalism is a behavior of a person in position of authority when pursues welfare of their subordinates under the assumption that they cannot procure it by themselves. It might apply to any situation but generally refers to either a leadership style or a governmental policy that involves protection and control to an extent that limits individual decisions and determination.

What Does Paternalism Mean in Business?

Paternalism is a term coming from the word “father” in Latin. It implies that the person acting like a paternalist does not consider the will of the people who is protecting and controlling, at least to some degree, but instead, he makes the decisions for them. The underlying supposition is that those people are incapable to do what is convenient for them.

Certainly, the intention behind paternalism is usually good. However taking responsibilities for others often produces undesirable results over time. When a person consistently receives help in an area, they probably will not have enough incentives to improve and be more productive. If an adult person is not allowed to take risks, make his own decisions and some mistakes, there is little chance to learn and grow from those experiences.

Example

Julie Melt is a smart professional who manages her own small business. Julie is used to increase salaries and give rewards to all employees no matter their performance and accomplishments. She also likes to control the type of food they consume during the 30-minutes lunch break, by accepting only vegetables and fruits in the office. Julie only wants to be kind and supportive but her paternalist style brought distortions.

Some employees have found too easy to get paid every month regardless of how good they do their job, so they have adopted a lazy, unaccountable behavior. Other workers eat out and arrive late to the office because they prefer to visit a burger restaurant. Julie realized that she is treating them like children and therefore decided to make important changes in her leadership style.