It is not uncommon for a CEO and other top executives to proudly announce that the employees at their company are family. “We’re just like a family here,” they’ll say. While this warm sentiment can feel good, the reality could not be less true. In fact, when a company is insistent that work is family, it’s a red flag that you may want to run the other direction.
One of the big differences between family and everyone else in your life is boundaries. No family is perfect. We can all think of an alcoholic uncle or a manipulative cousin we are related to. These are people we would likely not be friends with. But, in a family, they’re hard to escape. They are part of a larger family system that we want to hold on to.
Family also never stops. If your brother’s car has a flat tire, he may call you at midnight on a Tuesday or in the middle of the day on a Sunday. You are expected to answer and to help. Family support can be an around the clock labor of love. With work, boundaries are important. Unless there is an emergency, your boss should not contact you late at night or on the weekend. You need space to recharge. And, your company doesn’t own you; they employ you.
Additionally, at work, you should have the option to keep your private life private. Whether you are dating someone new, or going through a divorce, or are having a medical procedure, it’s your private business. You don’t have to share the details with anyone at work unless you choose to. In a family, there is often an expectation that everyone is up to date on your private life.
What I’m getting at is that work and family are not at all the same. When the leadership at a company claims they are, they are sending an underlying message. One is that you should be willing to sacrifice anything for the company. The next is that you should be flexible with your personal boundaries. It is a technique to peer pressure you into going along with behaviors you are not otherwise comfortable with.
One nice thing that can happen at work is that you may become close to some of your coworkers. You can choose to be friends with them outside of work. And, when you get a new job somewhere else, you may choose to maintain your friendships. But, this is all something you decide. It’s something you are in control of. And, if anything goes wrong, you have the option to address the issue, distance yourself, or walk away from the friendship altogether.
Implying that work and family are the same disrespects employees. It doesn’t acknowledge that you have your own family and boundaries. A good leader will say that you’re part of an excellent team, not a family. Work is not family.