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Should You Call Your Culture Family-Oriented?

Recently, in a workshop I was leading, the question came up as to whether it is a good idea to describe a company’s culture as a “family”. I did some research on the topic, and it seems that calling your organization a “family” may not be the best idea.

Here’s why:

  • “Family” means different things to different people and doesn’t always have a positive connotation.

  • We tend to get much more personal with family and it can blur and confuse those lines.

  • It can build tolerance for bad behavior and performance because, in a family, there is an expectation of accepting others despite their flaws.

  • It can create unhealthy family dynamics such as the employer acting as the parent and the employees as children.

  • If the employer has to let someone go or address performance issues, it will feel more personal. We usually don’t fire family members, although sometimes we may want to. The term family creates an expectation that the relationship will last indefinitely.

  • It seems inclusive but can actually create perceptions of a lack of diversity and inclusion. It can create an “insider versus outsider” mentality, where those who do not fit the traditional mold of what it means to be a part of the family may feel excluded or unsupported.

  • It may seem inauthentic.

Nearly 1 in 5 job candidates say it’s a red flag if an interviewer refers to the company as a “family” (People Managing People Study)

What to do instead:

It’s important to foster a positive, supportive work culture that promotes collaboration and well-being. But this doesn’t mean you have to call each other family.

  • Use the labels "team" or "community" instead. This allows for empathy, belonging and shared goals while focusing on driving performance.

  • Focus on creating a shared purpose to unite members and encourage collaboration.

  • Mutually accept the temporary and professional nature of this relationship. We have to be realistic about the relationships employees build with their employers and remember that it is transactional. People outgrow organizations and organizations change and may have different needs over time.

Most employees don’t want to be part of another family. Instead, they want to be part of a team that is bonded by a common purpose and built on trust and respect. David Burkus
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