Disclaimer: This article was submitted anonymously.
I don’t know about you, but I visibly cringe when I hear any HR executive say things like, “We’re all one big family here”, and it’s about time we retire this phrase.
Before you LinkedIn-addicted, motivational quote enthusiasts reach for your blood pressure pills and proceed to lecture me, consider why I (along with many others in the workforce) hold this opinion;
Is it because I’m a spoiled and entitled millennial who doesn’t know any better except when it comes to avocado toast?
Or is it because the term “family”, when used in a workplace setting, can actually contribute to toxic and unproductive workplace culture while imposing unfair and unrealistic expectations from the employees?
Shockingly, I’m not the only person who thinks the latter. In fact, it’s often cited as a red flag.
So, What’s The Problem With It?
Okay, let me get off my high horse for a minute and be honest here — when I was a fresh grad, I didn’t really think it was a big deal when my bosses referred to us as a big family.
In hindsight, though, I realised that they used this term to overlook so many other issues going on at work. If we addressed an aspect of workplace culture we weren’t happy with, we’d be made to feel guilty and ungrateful, instead of them actually listening to us and looking into our concerns.
If we were given any sort of increment, we were also made to feel like no other company would provide such rewards because we weren’t like other companies, we were a “family”.
So, needless to say, that was a load of nonsense, and let me tell you why.
Although it may start out with good intentions, the actual connotations of this term in a workplace setting can get toxic quickly.
Referring to your company as a family is outdated. The term gained popularity during a different time, back when employees felt more obliged to stay in the same company for years without question, but in today’s world, things have drastically shifted.
Younger employees are more likely to switch jobs if they see better opportunities for themselves elsewhere. We don’t feel like we owe our bosses anything other than our hard work and all we want is to build our skills and be fairly compensated.
Why Companies Shouldn’t Be Considered Families
If you’re an employer reading this and still aren’t entirely convinced, here are just some reasons why companies and actual families are different, according to Forbes:
Families don’t set KPIs and they don’t fire people
Could you imagine your mother kicking you out of the family because you didn’t meet your dishwashing KPI for the month?
Setting performance standards to help improve employee performance is a leadership quality, not a parental one. On top of that, letting employees go (for whatever reason) after telling them that they’re family, doesn’t reflect well on you as a boss. In fact, it screams hypocrisy.
Employees aren’t as invested in your company as you are
Families don’t place the same expectations on us as our bosses do, and chances are, employees won’t be as invested in a company as you are. To call your company a family may communicate the idea that employees should make work their number one priority in life, which is a completely unfair expectation to put on anyone.
In reality, to many employees, their workplace is just that — a place where they work and earn a living. They have lives and other equally important responsibilities outside of that.
You can start underestimating your employees without even realising it
Think about it, if you keep thinking of your company as a family unit, chances are you’re going to start treating your employees like they’re kids who don’t know any better. It’s also an indicator that you’re resistant to change because you don’t trust the ideas of your employees.
Employees don’t want to be patronised, they want to be trusted and involved in decision-making processes, not have a helicopter parent making decisions for them.
So clearly, the term “family” isn’t an appropriate way to describe your workplace, but what is considered more suitable, then?
If We’re Not Family, What Are We?
Simple — we’re a team!
According to Harvard Business Review, sports teams work with a very specific goal in mind (i.e. to win competitions). How do teams try to accomplish this goal? By working together!
In order for a team to achieve its goals, it should consistently look at how to best configure its members to improve its performance (i.e. by finding and tapping into everyone’s strengths).
Sounds like a more fitting comparison than “family”, doesn’t it?
One company that repeatedly popped up during my research for this article was Netflix, and their workplace culture seems to follow this idea as well. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying this company is the gold standard for HR and workplace culture, nor am I putting any company on a pedestal. I just think this particular element of their culture is interesting, relevant, and worth noting).
An excerpt from their corporate website reads,
“If you think of a professional sports team, it is up to the coach to ensure that every player on the field is amazing at their position, and plays very effectively with the others. We model ourselves on being a team, not a family.”
“…it is safe for any employee at any time to check in with their manager by asking, “How hard would you work to change my mind if I were thinking of leaving?”
Evolve With The Times
I’ll admit, that last point may sound a little harsh, but Netflix does make up for this with generous severance packages. But let’s really think about what this means — if you were given a job offer elsewhere but may still have opportunities for growth at your current workplace, wouldn’t you want to know this before making a decision?
It might seem blunt to some, so it may not be up everyone’s alley, especially if you prefer job stability. Personally, though, I think this can save a lot of time for employees who are deciding on whether or not to switch jobs. Let’s face it, as more Millennials and Gen Zs take on bigger responsibilities in the workforce, it’s time to adapt workplace culture to current needs.
It’s also a good exercise in professional communication and transparency, especially on the employer’s end. No guilt-tripping needed!
Regardless of whether or not you agree with my opinion, one thing everyone in the workforce can agree on is the importance of knowing your rights as an employee. So, whether you’re a fresh grad or have already been working for many years, it always helps to know the basics;