Your Firm is Not a Family (Stop Saying It Is)
A workplace culture that demands employees think of their company as a family has multiple detrimental impacts.
Even wonderful workplaces with congenial colleagues do not make a family. In fact, branding a business as a “family” is toxic, according to leadership development trainer Joshua Luna, and employers should stop doing it.
“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, lies in its loyalty to each other,” Mario Puzo wrote in The Godfather. So how is family loyalty bad when applied to the workplace? It implies that employees should prioritize work over the rest of their lives. Ultimately this can result in poor morale, burnout, and accompanying drops in productivity. At the same time they are over-working, employees might be made to feel they are not being a team player if they ask for reasonable compensation.
In addition to blurring the boundaries between work time and non-work time, a “family” office culture can lead colleagues to take too keen an interest in other employees’ personal lives, Luna warns. Some people don’t want to share their private lives at work, and they shouldn’t feel pressured to do so.
The “family” office culture can also maintain a lack of diversity. “Families can be unwelcoming to outsiders, especially when it comes to differences in class, race, or sexuality—a pattern that commonly shows up at work, too,” Joe Pinsker writes in The Atlantic.
Primary care-givers (who are often women) and others with inflexible commitments outside of work may be at a disadvantage at a workplace that values putting in extra hours to demonstrate loyalty. And just as women do more unpaid work at home, they also perform more tasks that help the office but not their careers. These tasks might include taking meeting notes, organizing office parties, or mentoring others. In addition to the time costs, these tasks also have opportunity costs. “Women help more, but benefit less from it,” write Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg.
The structure of a workplace is obviously not analogous to a family—nor should it be. Luna points out that feedback to employees shouldn’t feel personal, and neither should terminations. Employees are transient; they can choose to leave, and their supervisors can ask them to leave. In all situations, supervisors should act like leaders, not parents. And while family members might not tattle about each other’s bad behavior, employers should want more transparency.
Clearly, employers should stop equating their workplace with a family. Luna proposes they instead use the term “team” to capture working together toward a common goal. “Community” is another option. Or, employers can describe their office culture without analogies, as Pinsker suggests.
But what can employees do if they’re told they are part of a family at work? It’s not necessary for employees to set managers straight, as long as they don’t buy into that branding. “The most important thing is not to let that framework get into your own head,” Alison Green of Ask A Manager said in a New York Times interview.
This article was republished with the permission of Linda Reeder, writer of The Architectress. View the original article here.
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