The Trap of “We’re Like A Family Around Here”


There’s a well meaning mentality that is damaging workplaces and workers. It’s the “We’re Like A Family Around Here” line that some kind hearted, good people are using, not realizing it can lead to emotional manipulation, poor leadership and exploitation of workers.


If “we’re like a family around here” as your boss I can ask you to come in on the weekend, because I have no problem asking my family to come help me paint on the weekend, and they do, because they love me, but that’s me relying on an emotional tie to them to get what I want, and where I pay them back through love.  Frankly, I’m not interested in getting love from my workplace, I just want my pay cheque so I can pay my bills, as previously mentioned, I have a family to meet my emotional needs and give me love.


Understand that your goals and interests as a business owner or boss and how you interact with your employees are fundamentally different to the relationship dynamics within a family.  Families, generally, are based on an emotional connection that goes much deeper than your typical professional relationship.


Even close, friendly workplaces are predicated on a transactional exchange of labour for pay, so when a boss or owner in a workplace relies on appeals to emotion, because you’re “like family” it’s contradictory messaging that creates stress, resentment and degrades the positive relationship you may have.


So when you understand “we’re like a family around here” to mean “I’ve given you a pleasant work environment and therefore you owe me” not only are you acknowledging how much power you have in the relationship and how  bad work environments are normative you’re creating a subtle threat of if you’ve given it, you can take it away, and that goes along with your ask.


To be clear, I’m not attacking workplaces where they’re trying to be caring and inclusive and friendly with employees.  I just want leaders to be self-aware that they’re not accidentally crossing lines, not meaning to, that will damage the hard work and relationship building they’ve done, by resorting to playing on peoples emotions when times get hard.  And there will always be hard times.  Times when you don’t have the manpower you need or can’t afford to pay what’s demanded.  The important thing to do in times like that is to have a clear and honest conversation about the situation and be fair and straightforward about your requests, whether it be for over-time etc.


In short, creating a wonderful, friendly work environment where you demonstrate you care about your employees is great; expecting those same employees to work when it’s their time off, go above their job description and not get paid over-time is not, and attempting to force your employees to accept those things, especially because you’re “like a family” or because you feel they ‘owe you’ for the positive work environment you’ve created, is wrong.



My business, a 10 year Army veteran offering: onboard process design, employee training plans, leadership training and HR consultancy – Contact


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