The modern “workplace” has earned and retained its name for this simple reason - it is the place where you work. And at its core, it implies that some sort of task is being done on company property in exchange for compensation. There are relationships - you may have co-workers, teams, managers or direct reports. In the end, a reasonable job is mutually-beneficial to both the worker who receives a salary, and to the business which measures some level of success based on your effort.
Family, on the other hand, hasn’t really evolved that much since the beginning of time. There is of course you, a parent or two, maybe some siblings, and possibly a partner and/or children. Nothing much you can do to change that. You may fight and struggle, grow distant, reconcile, support, and share moments of joy or grief. But you are part of something permanent, more or less, and even life’s most difficult challenges are not enough to break these bonds.
So why do companies try to make you feel like you’re part of their family? Are they offering you unconditional love? Will they give you the freedom to exercise poor judgment? Will they allow you to engage in dangerous behaviors? Will they tolerate disastrous mistakes so you can grow as a person? Will they drop everything to come to your aid during a personal crisis? Highly doubtful.
Businesses have always existed for a single primary purpose - to make money. Naturally, they offer some product or service, but at the end of the day, the company depends upon income. In nearly all companies, you are ultimately relegated to an accounting line item - an expense justified only by how much you contribute to the bottom line. You are expendable, replaceable; a mere commodity. This certainly doesn’t sound like family.
The psychology of luring prospective workers into employment under the false pretense of family is hardly new. Since the industrial era, it's been used to foster feelings of security, comfort and happiness. It brings notions of inclusion, caring, and protection. Who wouldn’t want that? Well, your employer, for starters. They generally want little more than the legal maximum number of hours from you in order to generate revenue for them. Most of what they provide in terms of compensation to you is what is required by law, and often the bare minimum they can get away with. Being part of their family also tends to carry some subliminal obligation along with it, making employees more vulnerable and susceptible to doing more than they should such as working nights or weekends to meet someone else's poorly planned schedule or promised commitments. It’s not difficult to understand why they might be compelled to throw a little family your way to pressure you into feeling like you owe something more than what you're getting paid to do.
The long-standing tradition of physically separating work life from home life has been turned on its head. For many employees, especially in the pandemic era, work and family are now more intertwined than ever before. There are emerging trends in companies that recognize the importance of work-life balance - the establishment of an environment that fosters flexibility and job satisfaction to the employee in return for greater productivity. For example, policies that allow or even encourage WFH (Work From Home) reduce or eliminate the cost, stress and time of commuting between home and office. For companies, it helps reduce expenses for real estate, utilities, equipment, insurance and related logistics. Supplementing or reimbursing fitness memberships invests in employee health and well-being. Stipends for education, training, or enrichment courses provide both personal growth and tangible value to the company. Flexible working hours, tempered with adequate team or customer overlap, helps to ensure that work gets done while still providing room for employees to manage personal obligations.
For most of us, one family is enough. If you see or hear phrases like “join our family”, I recommend that you run the other way. More than three decades of experience has shown me that if a company has to resort to tugging your heartstrings to get you to come to work for them, then they are truly devoid of empathy. They may likely be the first to kick you to the curb when you no longer serve their needs or meet their expectations.
Look for evidence that your prospective employer is taking your well-being into account. Look beyond salary and scrutinize indicators of stress levels, commute times, employee retention and job satisfaction. If you’re not actively seeking to change jobs, look into what you can do in your existing company to bring attention to this trend.
I’ve worked enough years in enough workplaces to value all of these benefits that my current employer offers (and we’re hiring, by the way!)