Why You Shouldn’t Call Your Workplace A Family

Some companies will use the phrase “we’re like a family” to market a positive and close work culture, but the phrase is actually a red flag. Even if the intentions are good and your work culture is mostly positive, the phrase “we’re like a family” has toxic undertones that should make job seekers wary.

Work and family are drastically different behemoths and should be treated as such. Why is calling your workplace a family doing more harm than good? We’ll cover the major problems and why you should rethink the term.

Boundaries matter

Setting boundaries with family members and coworkers is an entirely different process. Family members must learn to coexist with one another in different ways, and there’s generally more personal information shared. In business, you must work together, of course, but at the end of the day, you clock out and go about your personal life. You don’t have to put up with the same toxic behaviors at work that you might with your family.

Not everyone wants to form deep bonds at work, and that’s totally fine. But forcing that dynamic with a “family culture” can be alienating and make someone uncomfortable. Feedback may appear more critical or personal under a family dynamic, according to Shenandoah Chefalo. Strive to create a professional but supportive culture at work to avoid falling into this pitfall.

“That’s not to say you shouldn’t share when practical, but you don’t want to develop a reliance on an organization to become your confidant and protector. It will not happen.” –Christopher Massimine, Entrepreneur

It can try to justify forcing extra work

Tying with the above, when those boundaries are cloudy, it can be much harder to say “no” when appropriate. There are plenty of good reasons to say “no” at work, and it isn’t your job to single-handedly keep an organization afloat. But if you aren’t helping the “family,” your “siblings” might act out. Guilt is a common motivator in families that has no place in the workplace.

According to Entrepreneur’s Christopher Massimine, family implies loyalty, and it can be applied toxicly in the workplace. If someone feels like a valuable part of the family and doesn’t see you as a team player, you may be guilted into doing more work for the “family.” Likewise, if you want to quit your job for another opportunity, your coworkers may try to guilt you for abandoning the family.

New employees will be treated differently

Potentially being forced into more work to keep the family happy isn’t the only consequence of the “family” culture. New workers may feel alienated and as if they aren’t part of the family until they prove themselves by drinking the Kool-Aid.

Researchers Lars Tummers and L. den Dulk found that new hires who don’t immediately embrace the family culture become outsiders, setting them up for failure. This can go beyond interactions in the workplace. Someone who doesn’t go to post-work happy hours with the team may be alienated for not spending time with the “family”. A good workplace needs to accept that some people are there to do their job effectively and go home.

Families can be dysfunctional

The very idea of family is complicated, and different people have different family experiences. While a company that markets itself “like a family” is trying to play on the positive connotations, there are just as many negative ones that will scare off potential employees.

HBR’s Joshua A. Luna discusses the unfair power dynamic found in families and elevated in these workplaces while Shenandoah Chefalo mentions that in this dynamic, you’re probably the “child” of the family. It’s clear that a workplace emulating a family is already exemplifying some of the worst traits of families off the bat before even considering the trauma workers may have from their actual families. Overall, it’s a bad look that invites bad comparisons.

“There’s nothing wrong with coming from a dysfunctional family—many of us do. However, we don’t want to encourage dysfunction at work. We want to support healing. The best way to do that is to see our work relationships for what they are: professional relationships.” –Shenandoah Chefalo, PACEs Connection

Families don’t have layoffs

Finally, while you can cut ties with toxic family members you probably aren’t firing them. Fast Company’s Justin Pot-Zapier reminds us that you aren’t employed out of familial affection, you’re employed to do a job. And if that company needs to cut ties to make ends meet or find another person to do that job, you’ll be let go from the family without a thought. That’s just how the business world works, but you can’t pretend to be a family and operate like a business. Likewise, a company shouldn’t make you feel bad for moving on to a new career opportunity. You aren’t leaving a “family.” You’re leaving a job, which most people do.

“If you tell people they’re your family and then you let them go, they will consider you a hypocrite – and they’ll be right.” –Denise Lee Yohn, Forbes

Wrap up

You may be trying to highlight all positives when using the phrase “we’re like a family,” but being part of a family comes with its own challenges that shouldn’t be emulated at work. A company may value you, but it doesn’t love you. Unlike a family, you aren’t going to be tied to a company for your whole life. While all companies should try to create a positive and inclusive culture, calling it a family isn’t the way to do so.

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