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"Family" Seems To Be the Wrong Word

It’s time for business owners and executive managers to stop using the term “family” when referring to their workforce. While it’s admirable to promote a culture of trust, inclusiveness, and other “family-like” values, it’s time for this metaphor to go away for good. Why? For several reasons, and here’s a few:

Even though personal and professional relationships exist in the workplace, they are not as “permanent” as the quintessential family relationship. The days of spending our entire career working for one company are long gone. Quite the contrary, referencing last month’s blog on Tours of Duty, there is value in employment relationships that are set for a predetermined amount of time which, once reached, are extended to a second tour of duty or evolve into an alumni relationship. By contrast, it would be rather unorthodox to expect, or even proactively plan, to be in a family relationship for a finite period of time.

Even though employees should always be valued and appreciated, no employee is irreplaceable. Even the most skilled and experienced employee, with highly developed professional relationships, can be replaced. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and an employee who is confident in their SKA’s (skills, knowledge, and abilities) and the role they play within the organization, will not be alarmed when asked to train or mentor others. Instead, such employees will appreciate the opportunity to share their acquired knowledge and help new, rising talent achieve their professional goals. By contrast, a family member can never be replaced.

Even though the majority of our waking hours may be spent with our colleagues, we devote our time in exchange for a financial reward. There are other important factors, to be sure, including a sense of accomplishment, but most of us would not perform our job duties for free. By contrast, time spent with loved ones – our children, for example - is selfless. The relationship IS the reward. Though, we do benefit: time spent with family can improve our health, increase our longevity, and enhance mental well-being. Instead of causing stress, time spent with loved ones reduces it.

Even though business is conducted in both the logical and emotional spectrums*, we are expected to keep our emotions under control while at work. Employees who demonstrate high emotional intelligence (EI) by exhibiting self-control and regulating their emotions possess a skill valued by most employers and managers. By contrast, lucky is the person who can share their unchecked feelings with a loved one who offers unconditional support.

There are more reasons but simply put, the traditional “I will love you no matter what” philosophy doesn’t apply in the workplace – for the employer or the employee. So if we’re not a family, what are we?

A team. Teams work together in a complementary fashion to accomplish a common goal that can’t be reached individually. Think of a baseball team. The goal or mission is to win games, and eventually, championships. Both the team and its players benefit from the relationship. And while the roster may change from season to season, the mission does not. What’s great is that being on a winning team increases a player’s chances of being recruited by another, better team offering a more appealing opportunity and higher compensation. I won’t belabor the sports metaphor - you can take the ball and run with it yourself!


* De Novo HRConsulting’s Change Management Strategy presentation explains that we cannot ignore the role emotions play in business: “When emotional decisions are made in the workplace, logic is often used to try to justify them. The astute leader recognizes this and takes corrective action….Meanwhile, appealing to another’s emotions can be an effective business technique, so long as it’s not manipulative.

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