I’ve always found it odd when people you work with, or collaborate with, or may work with in the future, use the phrase “getting into bed together” as a business condiment as if to somehow oddly sexualize what is, in fact and deed, a working relationship that is, if anything, asexually platonic by necessity of average function.

I wonder why there is a need to make a business contract a personal and intimate formality in such a dramatic manner.  Private relationships are bound by blood and emotion and decrees of love and passion.  No public business should operate under any of those terms.  I always wonder why that “in bed” phrase is so important for some people to utter during a negotiation or in a team spirit meeting.

Another odd turn of business phrase — most commonly used in the workplace — is “we’re all a family” as if that simple phrase will somehow bind workers together in the service of what?  Mommy and Daddy?

Why is there a need for some business owners and workers to view their workers and co-workers as family members?  Why risk the transfer of private familial dynamics into the staged boardroom?  Do we really want to have that sort of blood divide in the lunchroom?

Not everyone has a good or right family experience.  Can you imagine the young person at work, abused physically and mentally at home, and then made to play the same no-escape clause role in a cubicle?

That seems unusually rude and cruel — and that’s the problem with this sort of personal relationship transference: We can’t know what ghosts and monsters are hiding inside our co-workers, but we likely know there are many familial demons waiting to be tempted, and we should not be poking into dark places by inferring a family loyalty that does not want to exist in the first place.

Families tend not to always behave well when together, and formal boundaries rarely exist for personal expression.  In the workplace, we require a certain distance and a proper stature that may be distancing, but it makes the experience more professional and less emotional.  The work gets done because it must be done, not because you’ve been tasked with emptying the trash and loading the dishwasher.

A business contract is not a marriage contract.  When things go askew in a business, you don’t settle the score in divorce court.  There are different memes and operatives and grudges and blood ties that rightly bind a family unto itself — but never a worker to a job.

I understand the want for the boss to be the head of the work family in order to maintain a controlling pecking order of rewards and punishments — but I’ve never seen that sort of patriarchy/matriarchy workforce leadership work for the long-term health of the business because workers tend to rebel when they feel stuck and enclosed by unrealistic tethers they cannot control and that can lead to a quiet, or an outright, anarchy against the top totem.

No business can thrive when there are disgruntled “family” members trying to not only change the human dynamic, but redefine their role in a whole new “family” that may not fit their wants or expectations against the one and only family they already have at home.

No employee should be asked to split a loyalty — and the important loyalties for all workers is to themselves first and to their unambiguous families second.  The work can always wait.  The workplace will always fail in a vacuum of unrealistic demands against unfathomable expectations.  Leave the family dynamic at home to bleed alone.

16 Comments

  1. I am glad I am not the only one who finds this type of thing cringeworthy. The whole idea of corporate family always made my hackles rise …… along with the phrase “we are all in it together” – we may all work together but you get paid 50 times more for actually producing less than I do – was always the unspoken response.

    Families are minefields of their own – work has usually been a place to escape from all that not introduce a whole new – and much grander family into the mix.

    1. I’m glad to know this isn’t just a USA-centric vulgarity — I guess there is some serious mining of emotion all across the workplace faux “family” world!

      I would love to know, in the minds of those who propagate the whole family workplace ideal, just how everyone fits into the family. Are there multiple mommies and daddies? Is everyone a brother and a sister? Are there uncles and aunts and crazy people stumbling around in the attic? Is it incestuous to date a co-worker?

      Or is this family talk just a fluffy way of trying to demand a loyalty that is unearned and undeserved by circumstance?

  2. I suspect it may be more prevalent in the USA , but it certainly is not unheard of in the UK – it is usually called on in the speech where no, or very small pay rises are announced – or redundancies are forecast unless we can all pull together like a family. The days are long gone where most families were ideal units an everyone helped everyone else – they are now incredibly dysfunctional units , multiple fathers , unknown fathers, single parents etc etc etc

    One big happy family is a myth these days except in very exceptional circumstances. I am currently trying to think of one and failing badly.

    I suspect you might be right about its usage ………. but it is rather outdated five the state of most families – they need to find a new way to demand loyalty – how about being good employers ?

    1. It goes beyond just business here in the strictest sense. Sport teams are “families” and classrooms are “families” and even neighborhoods are “families” — and you’re expected to nod your head and play along and not challenge the idea of that sort of bloodline togetherness even though it’s all an impossible lie.

      “Community” might be a better phrase — but it’s still an artificial binder. I agree that “worker” or even “people of the human condition” are more effective ways to bring us together under the same ideal values.

  3. In the UK there is an old saying that goes, “business and family do not mix well” so why they are now trying to do so seems to be counter productive to say the least.

    Community is a possible alternative – best I can think of is team .

    1. That’s a right phrase. I’ve heard it before, too, but yet the opposite is so often propagated.

      I would love to see a company man stand up and seriously say, without joking or emotion, “Hey! We’re not family. We’re not even friends. We’re just here to work and get the job done and then go home and live the lives we really want. Questions? No? Good! Bye!”

      Team works, too. All in the effort of accomplishing a goal together.

    1. The workplace is not a stop for fun — many Millennials feel otherwise — and I wonder if that’s the appeal of using the family meme to get the right frame of mind set? Millennials are tied to their parents and so, the management thought may go, they can transfer that parental tether to the workspace.

  4. I can think of an example from personal experience. I am involved in running and growing a UK based charity that works with people with a learning disability. We certainly would not use the “get into bed” example but our organisation has been very successful at least in part due to our approach to the staff who work for us. We have always taken the view that staff are the most important consideration and if we have and retain well trained and motivated staff then we will be able to deliver excellent services for our beneficiaries. This has worked to such a degree that we have many examples of husbands and wives, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who work for or volunteer for us. Much of our recruitment is by “osmosis” and our retention rate is very high as a result of which we have increased our services by about compound 20% per annum over the last 10 years

  5. I am not sure that we deliberately use the term “family” although I have heard others use the term to describe the organisation but it has very much a family feel to it. it is unlike any other organisation I have know and many of our employees say the same. I guess there are three things to note 1) we are a charity (non-profit in US terms), 2) We are very flexible with staff in terms of adapting their roles, training them and helping them out when they have issues outside of work, in return we get 3) fantastic well motivated and trained staff who provide an excellent service and are prepared to go the extra mile when necessary and who by and large stay with us

  6. No it is not like that and was never done with an executive purpose in mind. If anything it developed like that partly because we have always “grown” our own staff from our volunteers. People like working for us and so they encourage their relatives to get involved as well and before long we are employing them as well. Now it has happened we see real benefits – we work with some really challenging people and I think there is something about not wanting to let other members of the “family” down because in many cases they literally are family