Devan Moonsamy 

Have you noticed how many companies advocate for their workplace as being a family? 

They say things like

 “We are all like a family here.” 

“You are not part of our family.” 

“We don’t work as a team but rather as a family.” 

This comes as no surprise because theoretically we spend most of our day with our colleagues at work. The relationships we build with our colleagues also help us grow in our careers and they also provide support for us in our personal lives. It is for this reason that it makes sense to brand the relationship we have at work as ones we share with our family. 

But the reality is that the way this might be accepted by your employees, highly depends on the work environment and culture you are in. 

The idea of treating the work environment and your staff as a family might be doing more harm than good. This could leave staff feeling conflicted with the term as the work environment might not be as the one of a family.

As an employer you might be after a high-performing, productive and dedicated worker who will bring in results. Sometimes adding the “family” element to the equation might lead to the fostering of a relationship and then an expectation that if it is not met might, then it will negatively impact the professional relationship.  

Another reason why referring to the work environment as a family might not be the best idea is that the lines begin to blur. The personal and professional lines start to become conflicted and as a result it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two. 

When we start referring to the office as a family environment it might put pressure on people to start sharing personal details of their lives. This might already be happening but we must acknowledge that not everyone will want to share details. Some might not be keen on sharing information about their lives and because of the family friendly environment the pressure they would be under could make them dislike this work culture. 

You might also find that creating a work culture that insinuates you are all a family might leave employees conflicted. Does this mean the employer are the parents and employees the children? This could pose a challenge because some people might not share the best relationship with their parents so this would create a problem with emotions are people allowing this personal issue to impact their work. 

It might also become difficult for an employer to let an employee go because in a family you don’t fire someone or put them through a performance review. The reality is that relationships between an employer and employee and temporary and at some point, they will come to an end. A healthy work environment is one that understands that. 

What to do instead? 

Instead of referring to your office environment as a family try looking at how to support your employees constructively. Refer to the team as a tribe or some type of sport team that works together to achieve objectives. By doing this you remain unbiased and maintain a culture of effectiveness and professionalism. 

It also helps to set clear boundaries so that the employee understands what your expectations are. It is important to support your employees. Ensure they are aware of their rights and responsibilities. The role of HR plays a great role in making sure that no employee is treated unfairly. You may not need to call your team a family but you must ensure their journey in your organisation is one that is fruitful. 

We must also realise that at the ned of it all the relationship between an employer and employee is transactional. The fact is that most people won’t stay at the same firm forever and that is perfectly fine. Growth is inevitable and it must be encouraged. When employees feel like they have outgrown a company and the conversation comes up, it must not be seen as a betrayal. 

Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African TVET College. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute. 

The ICHAF Training Institute offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | 083 303 9159 |

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