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Why you shouldn’t call your fellow team members your “family”

“I just want you to think of us as family,” they say. If this were true, I could fire my uncle for always bringing up “that” topic on Thanksgiving.

Coworkers are not your family

The well-known season 10 opener of “Undercover Boss” featured Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar. Brandon Landry, owner, went to the Lafayette location where he worked undercover with Jessica Comeaux, an assistant manager. Comeaux came across as a dedicated employee of the company, and she was given a well-deserved reward for her work. But I rolled my eyes as the show described the team as a “family.” I take offense at combining business and family, unless you’re really family.

Why shouldn’t this work dynamic be used? Employers don’t have loyalty to employees.

One of the biggest reasons work isn’t family is that loyalty doesn’t go both ways. Employers who act as though employees are family wouldn’t hesitate to fire someone if it came down to it. In most families, you support each other during tough times, but that wouldn’t be the case in a business. If you’ve ever thought that you can’t ask for a raise or vacation, you’ve probably bought into the theory that “work is a family.” No, work is a contract.

Would the roles be okay if the genders were reversed?

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At Walks-Ons, Comeaux is referred to as “Mama Jess,” by “some of the girls.” I have to wonder how that would come across if Comeaux were a man being called “Daddy Jess” by younger team members. See any problem with that? What happens when the boss is a 30-year-old and the employee is a senior?

Using family terminology to describe work relationships is just wrong. Families’ roles are complex.

You’ll spend over 2,000 hours with your co-workers every year. It’s human nature to want to belong. But when you think of your job like a family, you may bring dysfunction into the workplace.

What if you never had a mom, or if your dad was abusive?  Professional relationships don’t need the added complexity of “family” norms.

Seeing your boss as “mom” or “dad” completely skews the roles of boss/employee. When your mom asks you to do more, it’s hard to say no. If your “work mom or dad” wants you to stay late, it’s going to be hard to set boundaries when you buy into the bogus theory that work is family. Stop thinking of work this way.

Check your business culture to make sure that your team has healthy boundaries and teamwork. Having a great work culture doesn’t have to mean you think of your team as family. It means that you appreciate your team, let them have a good work-life balance, and understand professionalism.

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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Amber

    October 12, 2020 at 11:31 am

    Family doesn’t dismiss you from the family because it is in their financial best interest or to protect their profit margins.

    Family does not abandon you if you are suddenly unable to perform your daily tasks.

    Your family is your family for the rest of your life. Your co-workers will weave in and out of your life.

    When a coworker dies, it can be upsetting. When family dies, it is devastating.
    Co-workers do not spend years picking up the pieces of a sudden death. They will not help you plan the funeral, they will not allow you time to grieve beyond the typical “week”. They will not help you clean out the home of family member that passed and understand the emotions that go with it. Your co-workers will forget your real family struggles in days/weeks. Your real family will help you carry the burden the rest of your life.

    Family should always be your top priority. Calling co-workers family is a passive aggressive way of telling you your job is just as important as your family (it is not).

    Stop accepting or promoting a corporate culture that implies or states that your co-workers are family. They are not. They are team members. They are co-workers. They are your bosses. They have a very small roll in the big picture that is your life.

  2. Just Me

    July 17, 2021 at 8:26 pm

    The “work as family” rhetoric is just a form of manipulation on the part of top level executives. It’s an easy way to get lower level employees to feel as if they are an integral part of the corporate “family” and, worse, that the entire “family” will benefit if those same low level employees would just work their butts off 24/7. Of course they don’t benefit in any meaningful way
    and many will find their buttless selves thrown out the door for just about any reason.

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