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The Dangers of Calling Your Workplace a “Family”

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

By: Lindsay Cook, MS, PHR Regional Manager, Human Resources

Have you ever interviewed for a new role within an organization and the recruiter described the company culture as a family? If you’re like me, with experience with these types of cultures, you probably were put off.


What’s Wrong with Family?

Some people may ask themselves: why the thought of a self-described “family”-like culture is so bad?

Ask yourself: does a family fire a member when they aren’t holding up their weight or performing at a satisfactory level within the family unit?

Taking the trash out and cleaning the dishes aren’t the most glamorous of tasks, but I’m not sure anyone should be terminated from the household if they “forget” to do them or slack from time to time. A business is not family. In an organization, leaders must cut loose underperformers and those who break too many rules, which may not be true in a family.


Loyalty Can Mean Different Things

You have a certain level of loyalty to your family that is not healthy in the workplace. Speaking from a mom’s perspective, the role of a mom never has an end time. From the moment a mom wakes up in the morning, until the moment she goes to bed, she is a mom. Depending on a child’s age, her kiddo may depend on her for literally everything.

Now let’s apply this scenario to work life. Companies that act like a family may come across as having unrealistic expectations when it comes to work-life balance. This may cause employees to feel pressured to deliver an unreasonable degree of loyalty and can blur the line between work and home life. Companies who consider themselves “family” may imply that they expect their employees to never turn off, resulting in longer hours and the overall loss of personal boundaries.


Be a Team, not a Family

It is understood that many people are employed out of necessity rather than choice. However, employees strive for organizations that care enough about providing a positive working environment. “81% of workers reported they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health in the future” (American Psychological Association's 2022 Work and Well-being Survey).

Companies employing teams united by a common purpose can have some advantages over the competition. They'll be able to take advantage of each other's strengths, learn from varied backgrounds and viewpoints, and be more passionate about the work they do together.


Community

A company's culture can often be determined by the type of people they hire. If a company wants to delineate its culture using a descriptive word, I think “community” is a much better option.

A “community” is a unified body of individuals with common interests living together within a larger society (Webster’s Dictionary). Basically, it’s a group of people working towards a shared goal; and better yet if the people in the community like each and value each other.


How to Foster a Community

There are a few things that companies can do to foster a sense of community within their teams.​

  • It's important that every member knows the importance of the work being done and how their contributions are valued. Driving employees toward a shared purpose is a great way to build an effective, caring community.

  • Organizations must recognize that employees have a life outside of work and respect their personal time. Respecting boundaries leads to better mental health for employees overall.

  • Companies should celebrate employees' successes, both big and small. “An employee who has been recognized is 63% more likely to stay at his or her current job within the next three to six months” (ApolloTechincal).

Conclusion

By taking these steps, employers can create an environment where team members feel like they are part of a community and are more likely to be loyal to the company. The family analogy might work for some organizations, but it falls short when you consider how a real family operates. Remember the saying, family ties that bind? Binding is not ideal for growth and/or development and can have a negative connotation overall.

At the end of the day, the workplace is not a home, but it is where we spend most of our waking hours. While some co-workers or managers may treat you like family, you are also replaceable in the ever-changing world of business! Removing the notion of “family” from the workplace doesn’t diminish the power of working relationships or the community that has been built, it makes it stronger.


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