We spend a lot of our time at work. It's only natural that we want to form attachments and meaningful relationships with the people we spend most of our time with. This is okay. In no way do I want to diminish a good, supportive working environment. What I want to talk about is the “business” side of the “work family”.
To be blunt the idea of a “work family” boils down to simple manipulation. Family ties into our basic human desire to be a part of something, and to belong. We are taught from a young age that family is the most important thing in our lives. Leaving or abandoning your family is one of the worst things you can do. So what impact does this have when your workplace begins to adopt this “family” mentality?
I don’t believe that all workplaces construct this mentality maliciously or with ill intent. Often it’s created as a way to create a positive work environment for employees, to encourage camaraderie and create a supportive culture. While this is a good step in the right direction, employers should be careful in how they encourage a “family” at work, and individuals need to understand where the boundaries are.
One of the core problems with a “work family” is that people feel like they shouldn’t leave. We are taught through stories, tv, movies that one of the worst things you can do is abandon your family. So when we create this family environment in the workplace it’s only natural that these feelings would surface.
The problem with this is to gain experience, improve your skills and progress in your work you often need to move on. This can be difficult when you feel that your workplace is your family. You might think you won't find somewhere better than your current workplace or that you won’t have the same opportunities elsewhere. After all, who is going to treat you better than your family? You might worry that you are letting your “family” down or abandoning them when they need you, after all, no one knows the work like you do.
The reality is, they will survive without you, the business will not fall apart, they will move on, and so will you. Often you will move on to a new workplace, improve your skills, earn more money, learn new things, meet new people and grow as a person.
It's important to remember that the loyalty and the bond we form with our “work family” often does not go both ways. At the end of the day, if a business is struggling they will let you go, regardless of how much they like you or how difficult it is for them.
In some cases, the "work family" can lead to more than just feeling that you shouldn’t leave. Employees can start to form a belief that they somehow owe the business.
When you are part of a family unit you rely on and support each other. In business this can be wonderful, having the support of your team to accomplish your goals is invaluable.
But this can easily be taken advantage of. You see it when people work long hours or weekends and give up free time to “save” the business. Often because of over-promising, unrealistic deadlines or ridiculous budgets. In this scenario, an employee can start to feel like they have to do this extra work, (for free), otherwise, they are letting "the family" down. This is noble, but as an employee, you have a contractual arrangement with your employer. They pay you to be there, it is not your responsibility to run the business. You should not have to “save” it by giving up time that you are not being fairly compensated for.
If you give up your life to make up for poor business management the business is “saved” but you lose out. This is the time you missed with your family, your friends, learning a language, travelling or reading in the park. All because we are encouraged to believe in a "work family".
The relationship you have with your employer is a contract. This contract goes both ways. Your job is to do your work, in the allocated working hours you have agreed to, and do it to the best of your abilities. Your employer's job is to make sure you have a safe working environment with the tools and information you need to complete your tasks.
It concerns me when friends tell me they don’t want to ask their employers for pay-rises because “the business is struggling”, or “it’s a small company”. This to me is the epitome of using the “work family” mentality against you. It’s not your responsibility to run their business. If they can’t afford to pay you, they'll say no. If you are punished for asking for a pay rise this is a further demonstration of manipulation. You should always keep an eye on the market and make sure you are being compensated.
A good working environment might not provide you with beer on tap, breakfast, parties or random gifts. But it will fairly compensate you for your time and effort. It won't take advantage and expect you to work for free in what is meant to be your time off. A good workplace will ensure a safe, respectful place to work and it will help you grow and develop your skills.
Work hard, do the best you can, but don’t sacrifice your time, your life and your mental health to be the hero. Decide what your values, beliefs and opinions are and don’t let your employer convince you to violate them. Be fair and reasonable, but don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Remember, work is a contract, you don’t owe anything outside of that arrangement.
Don’t get caught up in the cute puns and the BBQ’s or the after work drinks, or that $200 gift you got at Christmas. This does not make up for excessive overtime or working late nights, it doesn’t get your time back, and your time is the most valuable asset you have.