If you’ve ever heard “we’re a family” from your place of business, you’ll know what I mean when I say how dangerous of a job dynamic that can be. In today’s virtual workplace, employees are getting more and more tasks piled atop them in exchange for the convenience of working from home. What was once a standard 9-5 workday has been filled with loose guidelines, unrealistic for the volume of work expected to be accomplished, let alone the breadth and frequency of communications occurring at hours once intended to be personal and “off the clock.”
Employers and employees are to blame for perpetuating this cycle when both parties must discuss and agree on work-life boundaries. But, instead of having hard conversations, the realities of this impossible way of working have been chalked up to “pitching in” as companies find their way through the pandemic.
Why are you being asked to work more hours with no additional pay? Maybe, because you are a part of a culture where you give much more than you receive. This culture is colored by unprofessionalism and lacquered with neglect. But that’s okay because you’re “family.”
1. Work and family have different expectations
Used to convey a supportive and collaborative business environment, work families are rarely ever that. The label of the family itself, in a workplace context, is a term that allows for manipulation. A company can’t love or comfort you on your worst day, and they are not bonded to you for life. Families are unconditional, and your job is a place where your conditions need to have structure, or they become open to a toxic way of working. Families can also have a degree of dysfunction and remain intact, while companies need to maintain healthy functionality to sustain and grow.
2. The professional becomes personal
At the end of the day, business is just that. You can be applauded one day and fired the next. In a family-style dynamic, letting someone go, let alone providing feedback, will feel much more personal. After all, you don’t give a performance plan for a family member or fire them.
Not all employees want to form deep emotional bonds with their co-workers or bosses. Personal details are best kept to a minimum at the workplace and left outside the office. That’s not to say you shouldn’t share when practical, but you don’t want to develop a reliance on an organization to become your confidant and protector. It will not happen.
3. Parental relationships form
The parents typically make the decisions in a family unit, and the children obey. This is disempowering and unhealthy in the workplace because employees bring value to a company and should influence their work.
After enough time of feeling discouraged and “parented,” employees may feel uninspired to even stand up for themselves, afraid that they are outsiders. Employees fall in line and fall apart as they are given tasks well outside their job descriptions. They silently yearn to be appreciated and leap at the opportunity to impress their supervisors — like a child to parent. The same dependence justifies unlawful behaviors to transpire without repercussions between boss and employee.
4. Unreasonable loyalty makes for dishonorable behaviors
Family implies loyalty, peddling work relationships as lifestyles for “team players.” Exaggerated loyalty has been shown to encourage unethical actions to keep one’s job or advance within a company. Conversely, the same embellished loyalty discourages employees from wanting to speak out against their work family, downplaying wrongdoings and immorality. Worse, work-family will go out of their way to protect those who’ve conducted dissolute affairs, which continues to recurrence of corruption and affirmation that it is acceptable for a business to be completed in such a manner.
5. New employees are alienated
New hires who don’t adhere to the family style of working tend to become outsiders in their companies and leave, either by choice or are let go for not having the right “cultural fit.”
Families can be tight-knit, but in a work environment, a tight-knit culture means trouble when the focus is on welcoming similarities and excluding differences in personality and opinion. Therefore, turnover is more frequent in organizations that identify as “family.” As a revolving door continues to discourage self-expression, more work pours onto everyone else’s plates.
6. It’s not sustainable
Eventually, the family dynamic collapses when the volume of assignments becomes untenable, with employees sliding into lax behavioral conditions and underperforming while still believing they are entitled to a job for life. This type of burnout is tough to correct because the relationships in family-style office cultures are already informal and loosely structured, filled with favoritism, and often less productive and more chaotic. By the time burnout has reached critical levels, the company usually has to reset the clock by cleaning the house and starting all over — learning nothing and pressing forward with new victims.
What a workplace should look like
Work cultures should place value on their employees to establish and meet reasonable expectations, both for what acceptable performance looks like and for work-life challenges. A code of conduct and ethics should be outlined in the employee handbook, holding staff and management accountable, with well-defined consequences for breaking the code.
Feedback should be regularly and transparently shared, from the greenest employee to the executive officer. A good employer will seek to take up their employee’s suggestions when applicable, or at the very least engage in a conversation to show interest in developing the employee. Pay and benefits should be equitable and proportional to the role and size of the organization. It should be mutually accepted within the organization that workplace relationships are temporary and transactional.
Working gives you the means to support your lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean you owe your employer more than they pay. Your personal life, time and real family matter. Don’t jump on the bandwagon if you find yourself amidst a corporate family. You can and will find value, quality and professional etiquette elsewhere.