We Are (Not) Family

Sister Sledge, take a seat.

I’m here to talk about how your workplace is not your family—and that’s a really good thing.

In the world of employer branding, there are a few tried and true clichés that we often hear employees toss out when they’re trying to describe their relationship with their team and their job. The most egregious example of this is the saccharine expression, “We’re all family here.”

Now we can’t just disregard that statement. As an employer, you want your employees to feel like a family, but that’s the keyword: feel. Personally, I love that my coworkers and I get along so well. Although we’re all different and come from diverse backgrounds, we share the same sense of humor that has already seen us through trying periods at work. I like what I get to do every day, but I love coming to work to talk about articles with my cube mate or set up weekend plans with the group.

Being comfortable with them enables me to speak up when I’m drowning in work or throw myself into the lion’s den when they need me to. I trust them, they trust me. Whatever work throws at me on a given day, I always know someone will make a dumb joke on our team chat that will keep me motivated to close out my goals. I will happily tick the box that reads “job satisfaction” every day of the week.

That, you see, is what you want to represent when you advertise “it feels like a family here.”

What you don’t want is to be the company that will capitalize on that feeling to encourage burn out. Many employees (including myself, in the past) often find themselves burning the midnight oil and working themselves to the bone because a higher up will gather them in a meeting and lay it on thick by inquiring, “Don’t you want to help the family?” Or something equally pressuring along those lines.

Quartz stepped in with this problem, noting the slightly manipulative nature:

You might worry that you are letting your ‘family’ down or abandoning them when they need you, after all, no one knows the work like you do…You see it when people work long hours or weekends and give up free time to ‘save’ the business. Often because of over-promising, unrealistic deadlines or ridiculous budgets. In this scenario, an employee can start to feel like they have to do this extra work, (for free), otherwise, they are letting ‘the family’ down. This is noble, but as an employee, you have a contractual arrangement with your employer. They pay you to be there, it is not your responsibility to run the business.

No one can do their best work if they are not operating under their best circumstances. If your company is asking its employees to do things that regularly work against their needs as human beings (lunches, weekends, actually leaving the office), they are probably considering a new “family” that doesn’t just use the term to justify grossly overworking their people.

A company should be like your family in terms of support and acceptance—not in terms of the bottom line, burn out behavior, and guilt trips (Mom, if you’re reading this, I swear I’ll use that Crockpot soon!).

Get up, everybody and sing: we are not family (and we wouldn’t want it any other way)!

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