“You are part of the family now”………
“Here we just feel like one big family” …….
“Of course not – you are family now”……
…and I am sure you can add another 10+ family analogies that you have heard yourself from colleagues and management in your daily working life.
The family analogy has taken root and is very wide spread in many companies today and over the last 10+ years with the strong media focus on start-up and scale ups it has become everyday language around the world and even in established more traditional companies.
And it’s nice right – I mean who doesn’t want to be part of the family ?
The family analogy makes a lot of sense and well meaning management and company owners want to signal that they will take care of you. Problem is that when shit hits the fan – P&L and shareholders’ value always rules and you will get fired.
Countless stories arise all the time from ex-employees around who felt betrayed by the company they gave everything – recently the media reported a strong pushback from ex employees at Airbnb who simply could not understand how the company could fire anybody even in a pandemic after years of positioning themself as family to their employees.
And yes the talented CEO – Brian Chesky penned a very powerful and emphatic statement focusing on the company mission and showed real feelings for the thousands of employees he now had to let go and I have no doubt he meant every word – however, many of the ex employees still felt betrayed and naive for buying into the family narrative.
Another and equally important problem with the family analogy is that some people do not associate family with something nice.
Abuse of alcohol, drugs, and domestic violence is on the heavy end but a lot of families have their particularities one way or the other – especially when it comes to the extended family.
And that’s one of the amazing things about companies especially the first couple of jobs. You can choose a whole new group of people to hang out with – people you choose.
The open mind you have in those early years, the strong relationships you build with other young people at your first company going out every second night, the affair with the wonderful girl in accounting and so forth.
Many of these relationships can last a lifetime (perhaps not the one with the accountant but you get the point).
So it might be that some employees actually build relationships that feel like the ideal family and if they are they will most likely endure even the bad times – and that is beautiful.
You can love your Mom but still pass on the opportunity to work for her – and when leaders use the family analogy they automatically put them self as the father or mother and it might feel cozy and familiar for the employee initially – but in the midterm and longer term it’s not the ideal association if you want to create a professional and transparent honest organization.
Analogies are great – especially if you are communicating to a bigger audience and with limited time or attention at hand but be careful with the family analogy. I would like to make the case for analogies that signal a more voluntary and dynamic participation being the good old sport or team analogies, old TV serieses, iconic companies or be creative and come up with something new and then leave the family part to the real families.
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