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Family? Is It OK to call your job your family?

Every couple of months, we host what we call a Workforce and Talent Salon. No, not the beauty parlor kind, but the pretentious 17th Century France kind. In our Salons, we invite people from diverse backgrounds to talk about important subjects related to workforce and talent.

On a recent (very chilly!) Tuesday evening, we hosted a Salon focused on the topic "Should Work Be Considered Family?" Even though the temperature outside was COLD - COLD - COLD, the conversation around our table was HOT - HOT - HOT!

The "point was set" by entrepreneur and culture advocate, Austin Drabik, who shared some interesting facts and observations about combining family and work:

  • Does a culture of kindness stifle innovation? Does it inhibit psychological safety??

  • Does fostering "we" and "us" create an in-group at work that excludes people who can't or won't abide? After all, we're not all in this together. Some of us are more in it than others.

  • Does being a part of the family mean we go above and beyond? Is that expectation communicated before someone joins?

  • Is "family" mandated top-down or is it sparked from within? Does it happen organically?

With that as a frame of reference, our conversation flowed from there.

On the one hand, what does family even mean? There are so many definitions and so many ways people have experienced "family" -- not all of them good. Consider people whose families have rejected them for who they are. (How painful must that be?) Or the people who grew up in families where younger, weaker siblings were bullied and teased. (It's OK, though. We're family.) So when we say, "We're family," it doesn't conjure the same thing for all people. That's what you want to be careful of.

On the other hand, we learned from Austin that, not only do we spend a ridiculous amount our lives at work and with work colleagues, research confirms that one of the biggest factors of job satisfaction is having a "best friend at work" and one of the biggest factors in life satisfaction (i.e., happiness and longevity) is building and maintaining close relationships. Indeed, that sentiment was echoed by everyone around our table. To wit:

  • Malka recalled one of her clients who'd lost her job during the pandemic. She especially mourned losing her work family -- the people she'd gone to dinner with and socialize outside of work.

  • Christine recounted the extraordinarily close relationship she'd developed with a colleague at one of her early jobs -- a relationship that is maintained to this day. They look out for each other. They support each other. They console each other. They look for opportunities for each other.

  • Sam concluded that there's just not One Way To Do It. "As it often does," he quipped, "it depends." Sam reflected on colleagues who, as immigrants, literally have no family in this country and depend on the people they work with to fill the void. He contrasted that with colleagues who, when the work day is done, are eager to get home to attend to their own family.

  • Andrea shared the anecdote about a client whose direct report, intending to be complimentary and express in a positive way how grateful she (the direct report) was for the nurturing relationship she had with her manager (my client), had told her manager, "I consider you like a second mother." Andrea's client was aghast. "I'm not your mother. I'm your boss."

Listening to these insights, perhaps the best course of action is to ditch the shorthand description, "family." Instead, identify all the things you mean when you say "family" (i.e., we respect each other, we are kind, we support one another, we're a team, etc., etc.) and just say those things.

Martin kept bringing the conversation back to the importance of building and maintaining close relationships. Instead of assuming you have close relationships because you're a "family," actually do the work to build and maintain those important relationships. That's what makes work -- and life -- a joy!

The next Workforce and Talent Salon on Thursday, April 18, 2024 from 4 to 6 pm. The topic is, "Who gives a care," featuring Marti Bledsoe, founder of a-parently, about how family caregiving responsibilities impact work and vice versa.

Join us!

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