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Why You Might NOT Want Your Workplace to Feel Like Family

By: Ryan Kidman


game pieces representing a diverse team

Many organizations want to create a warm and supportive environment for their workers — in their own words, they want their employees to feel like a happy, loving family. However, for many workers, the phrase “one big family” used in recruitment materials is just one big red flag.

While many might have fuzzy feelings associated with the word “family,” the truth is that the concept of family is fraught. Families have structures of authority, cliques, secrets and traumas; families tend to have networks of trust and communication that are incomprehensibly labyrinthine, and it is not uncommon for families to punish or ostracize members for being different in some inscrutable way. Worst of all, families tend to be mired in tradition, with genetics and culture predetermining every member’s behavior and no system of checks and balances to ensure equity or promote progress.

In short, “one big family” is never what a business should strive to be. Instead of trying to use this shorthand to force workers to develop comfort and loyalty in a workplace, organizations should behave in ways that encourage healthy, productive and satisfying relationships at work. Some critical ways to accomplish this atmosphere include:

Performance and Purpose

A family is supposed to love and support its members regardless of their behavior, but in a workplace, behavior matters. Workers must contribute meaningfully to the success of the organization, or they must be replaced with workers who have the knowledge, skill and work ethic to do so. Yet, many employees lack clarity with regards to their purpose inside an organization, which means they cannot sustain high levels of performance which would make them valuable to the group.

Instead of obfuscating roles within the business by describing the organization as a “family,” business leaders need to make their expectations of their employees clear. During the onboarding process and consistently in one-on-one meetings and employee check-ins, leaders need to draw a stark line between a worker’s personal and professional lives and highlight exactly what a worker needs to do in their role at this company.

It might be imperative that business leaders learn to accept the transactional and temporary nature of workplace relationships, which will make establishing professional boundaries and expectations easier. Leaders should still celebrate with their teams, but they should focus on work-related achievements and occasions, like recognition of employee anniversaries and completed projects.

While every employee within an organization should have a specific role, every employee should be working toward a shared goal. Leaders who are partial to the idea of business as family might pivot their messaging to instead describe their organization as sharing a purpose, which is a more productive way of describing the bonds that keep a company together.

Leaders might work with their employees to define the purpose of the organization, crafting a simple and straightforward mission statement that can guide decision-making going forward. Research shows that determining an organization’s purpose can increase employee loyalty and engagement — which cannot be said of calling a business “one big family.”

Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

Most families are not particularly diverse. Though some families happily embrace members of different backgrounds, most families are composed of members who are related by blood and share key experiences that cause them to think and behave in similar ways. Unfortunately, many families ostracize black sheep members, who look or act different from the group, even if their appearance or actions are not causing any other members harm.

Employees within a business should not share identical backgrounds. Studies have found that diversity amongst an organization’s workforce improves productivity, creativity, morale and more — but even if this were not true, business leaders should strive to provide career opportunities for marginalized people simply because all people deserve reliable and rewarding work. All members of an organization deserve equitable treatment, as long as they continue contributing meaningfully to the shared purpose. There should be no such thing as a black sheep within a company.

Business leaders should invest time and energy into developing Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DE&I) programs that promote and maintain these concepts within the organization. With DE&I firmly established, a business is less likely to fall into the damaging habits and traditions of family life.

Leo Tolstoy wrote that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” To avoid becoming an unhappy family, business leaders should build organizations that do not operate on a family model and instead maintain professionalism that drives everyone to contentment and success.

Published: June 10, 2022

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Ryan Kidman

Ryan Kidman is a startup-investor and serial entrepreneur. Founder of Catalyst For Business and contributor to search giants like Yahoo Finance, MSN. He is passionate about blogging and covering topics like big data, business intelligence, startups & entrepreneurship. Follow him on twitter: @ryankhgb

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