We Are Family – Or Are We? “Family” At Work

“Family” is a word with a million meanings. For some, it’s a word that represents love and compassion. For others, fury and a fight-or-flight reaction. Whether the emotion is extremely positive or negative, it’s very rarely neutral. You feel something when someone says the word, “family.”

Of course, that’s likely why workplaces adopted the phrase such a long time ago. I imagine it was in part because most businesses were, in fact, run by families. But also because the perfect family has been beaten into our psychology long before work ever crosses our path. Happy Dad, Happy Mom, 2.5 kids. You know the story.

We’re conditioned to believe that family gets a pass. They can behave poorly, and we accept them because “that’s just how they are” and “they’re family.” I’m here to tell you; first, you’re welcome. That cost me a lot to learn in therapy. Second, that’s just not true. No one in life gets a pass for treating you poorly, family or not.

In reality, we also know better despite how the media sells the idea of family and everything working out. According to national stats, about 50% of people who will read this in the US have divorced parents.

Yet here we are bringing “family” into workplace recruiting messages.

I saw it for myself. It was from a recruiting leader at a well-known social media company who tweeted something along the lines of, “this is how I turned my team into a family.”

I made a face. I know I made a face.

It wasn’t about her or that the sentiment wasn’t right. I just don’t like the idea of putting that “family” feeling on work. So, I tweeted this.

Curious about your thoughts on calling employees “family?” I feel like it gives people permission to act poorly. Families aren’t usually regarded for exceptional behavior and transparency. It feels like another way to force loyalty.

I didn’t really expect what happened next. 40 people responded in the first few hours. A handful of people loved the idea. I think these are the people whose parents are still married. (Kidding)

In all seriousness, it was a reminder of how great work could be for the right person at a place that really appreciates them. These people found places that encouraged them to grow and helped them discover who they were and made space for them to learn. Warm and fuzzy kind of stuff.

Then the cynics showed up. You know, all of the other kids who have been burned by family, work and a few other supposed fairytales along the way.

My people.

Look, I’ve been there. “I know we didn’t pay for your healthcare, don’t worry. You’re like family to me. I won’t let anything happen.”

Bullshit. And y’all called bullshit on it too.

We’ve vetoed “family” from your careers site.

So here’s my bottom line on saying “we’re like one big happy family” on your careers site.

I know your intent is good but remember, recreating your meaning of family at work isn’t the goal for everyone. Create a place where your people will say it without stuttering instead of worrying about making it “part of your brand.” You don’t need it on your homepage, you need people saying it in your hometown to their friends who might want to work for you, too.

The best companies aren’t families. They’re allies of families who do their best to create a place where their workers can shut their laptops at a reasonable hour. They help their people be the best husbands, wives, parents, siblings, and children they can be.

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Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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