Why you will never find me signing company cards with the word “Family” ever again

A few years ago, I worked for a small startup. It meant the world to me as it had, in one place, so many great things: a bunch of amazing people who became very close friends of mine; a “small gym”; a kitchen that had a variety I could only dream of in my own house; and a laundry service, to name a few. 
 It felt like my second home and we called ourselves “family”. 
 I spent 12-hour days there and it felt great! It was as if all my emotional needs were met — I had people who really cared about me, I was meaningful to them, and I made an impact. Together, it gave me a sense of belonging, which allowed me to laugh, cry, and grow up … you get the picture. Sounds familiar, I’m sure.

Then came 2008. We were forced to lay off 40 percent of the workforce. It was one of the worst weeks of my life. People with (real) families, with mortgages, with passion and dedication for their undertaking, who belonged to this “family”, were now sent home. Feeling betrayed. Why betrayed? As one of them told me, when we informed him of his dismissal, “How can YOU do this to ME? You always said we were family. Families do not kick you out when it’s hard”. These words still burn my heart.

In Maslow’s words, the pyramid collapsed. Physiological safety, love and belonging, and then self-esteem and self-actualization, were all taken away.

We can see that over the years, the “workplace provides you everything you need, so you can just stay in the office and work” attitude reached a whole new level, both practically (e.g. health checks in the office, massages, manicures and even fertility services for women), and emotionally (e.g., new employee receives a “Welcome to the Blahblah Family” card on their first day; everyone has the same nickname “xxxERS”).

It seems like companies are selling something employees want to buy — belonging. People yearn to be part of something, to be meaningful, to have friendships, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Being part of a group (family, friends, work) can satisfy these needs. By selling the dream of a family, companies tap into this desire.

As I see it, this is the wrong path toward a long lasting relationship between firms and employees.

Your workplace is not, by any means, your family. Here are some reasons:

1. You choose your workplace. You do not choose your family. You can decide you do not want to be in touch with your family members, but you’ll always be considered part of the family. At work, both sides can decide, independently, that they can walk away from the relationship — and even never mention it in the CV.

2. You can expect unconditional love from your family (I’m not saying you’ll get it though). This is NOT what you can expect from your company, and your company cannot expect this from you. Both sides need to work hard in order to stay in this relationship. The employee should produce outcomes and contribute to the company’s goal, and the company should provide a worthy workplace in which the employee is being developed.

3. You can expect your family to be there when everything goesbad. You cannot always expect that from your workplace, and your workplace cannot expect that from you.

Instead, I believe workplaces should be expected to create a professional environment, to act with fairness and respect, to provide appropriate compensation, to provide feedback that can help employees improve, and, most importantly, to be able to give their employees the acknowledgement that they are meaningful.

Employees should be expected to bring dedication, professionalism, results, respect and good spirit.

Workplaces do not need to pretend to be something they are not. They have GREAT value to offer their employees — a chance for each individual to express themselves, dream, initiate, execute, experience, bring to bear their skills, be part of a group with a vision and mission, challenges, satisfaction, success, appreciation, being part of a team that share the same values, meaningfulness, intimacy, care, creating one’s reality and more, which provides meaningful reciprocal relations. This is huge!

The relationship between employees and their workplaces should be defined by a clear set of expectations of reciprocity. The expectations are mutual, the investment is mutual, the growth is mutual, and so on.

These days, I still spend 12-hour days at work and the time goes by real fast and I enjoy every minute of it! My emotional needs are being met — I’m being heard, I’m important to my colleagues, I am friends with many of them, I feel part of something bigger than me: “belonging”. I laugh, I cry, I feel intimacy, I grow up, we eat together, create together, and at the end of the day — I go back home, to my family.

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