Skip to main content

One of my pet gripes is hearing, from a company’s hiring manager, something along the lines of, “We are like a family here”.

Whoah. Let me stop you there. A company is not a family. Conflating the two is unrealistic – and can be dangerous.

How so? Well, within families, loyalty and love are unconditional. Your parents don’t stop loving you because you didn’t come good on a promise. You don’t stop screaming for your child on school sports day because some other kid is sprinting faster – and you fancy switching allegiances. These ties are non-negotiable.

By contrast, you don’t love your employees (or, if you prefer, value them / retain them / pay their salary) unconditionally. You value / retain / pay them based on their performance – and, if you know what’s good for you, on that alone.

A Fast Company article backs me up here in arguing that it’s not healthy for companies to think of themselves as families because, essentially, companies have to make some hard decisions which just don’t apply in the more forgiving, less results-driven, and frankly very different world of family life. Continually labelling your outfit as a ‘family’ distracts from this very basic truth.

Laying people off, if and when that moment has to come, is hard enough. Pretending that you are all part of a family, and conjuring up ties of loyalty that you may – when that red line is reached – have to go back on, will make this moment all the more painful.

Breaking up is hard to do

It’s precisely when, for whatever reason, employer and employee have to part company that you really see the gulf between family and professional relations.

On the one hand, in families, going your separate ways is… just not something you want to do, whether you’re husband and wife, parent and child, or siblings. There is pain involved. Words like ‘betrayal’ may be used. Leaving a relationship or family situation is, in short, freighted with emotion, often painful – and not something to be done lightly.

Conversely, there are a great many perfectly valid reasons for quitting a job, none of which should involve your staff in feelings of pain or guilt.

An employee might simply not like the workplace culture at their current job. Other reasons, though, can be more positive: they may have found a job that pays better, offers clearer pathways forwards, or more closely aligns with their interests and passions.

None of these reasons are in any way a betrayal. People quit their jobs all the time, and for all sorts of (reasonable!) reasons. With so many companies out there that would welcome (and pay for) their expertise and skills, why would an employee tie themselves to the one outfit for life?

As the old adage goes, you can’t change your family. Not so with your company. Work is not a permanent commitment: rather, it’s a place where staff hope to feel as valued, fulfilled and remunerated as possible. If some other workplace seems to offer a more enticing mix of those factors, those workers are perfectly within their rights to switch allegiance.

It could be damaging for your employees to start thinking of your company as a ‘family’, as they may then feel reluctant to leave (even if presented with any of the sound reasons for moving that we outlined above), fearful that leaving would constitute some form of betrayal.

There is no need for them to think like this – and you should not allow them to.

Don’t try to persuade me that, if the tables were turned, you would have any such scruples about letting those employees go. No misguided sense of ‘family’ would stop you making the right business decision.

What’s love got to do with it?

Don’t, please, get the L- word mixed up in here. Yes (all being well) you love your family. You love your partner. You love your close friends.

You do not *love* your staff.

This is down to the simple fact that your company is not a person, no matter how much today’s more touchy-feely outfits might like to portray themselves as such. Your company may have lots of great things going for you – great salaries, generous holiday provision, flexible working, extraordinary Italian coffee machine. You may, in short, be an admirable employer and a really enriching part of your employees’ life.

At its most essential, however, your company is an entity that – of course – has to do its utmost to keep prospering financially. And if one day a certain employee no longer figures in your visions of prosperity, you will not feel hamstrung by family-style ties of loyalty when it comes to letting that person go.

So, by all means, encourage your staff to revel in their work; to feel blessed at finding a company that fits so well with their aspirations, interests, financial needs and other life commitments. But – if another role comes along that meets that complex set of requirements even better – don’t let them feel conflicted about doing what’s right for them. Don’t cloud their judgment with the use of the F-word.

You may be many things to your staff – but you are not their family.

Personnel changes are a fact of business life. However, there are ways to ensure that departures (and arrivals) cause minimal disruption to your company – and even make the road ahead look more promising.

At Jefferson Talent Group, we bring a wealth of expertise and insights to our business transformation consultancy – and we can help you plan any changes to your personnel and working methods with confidence.

Contact us today and let us help you flourish, whatever the comings and goings.