the problem with jobs that claim they’re “like a family”

The next time you’re interviewing for a job, there are five words your interviewer might say that should send you running in the opposite direction: “We’re like a family here.”

While a family-like company might sound pleasant on the surface, that framework tends to be a flag for a strikingly dysfunctional work environment. At Slate today, I wrote about what it means. You can read it here.

{ 201 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    It’s really weird, my job uses that, but they didn’t use it during the interviews, and they… actually treat us well?

    Like they seem to mean “we care about you as people,” they pay well, you can work remotely as often as you want.

    1. Venus*

      There are always exceptions to things, and lucky that you had one of them! It’s the type of sentence that would push me to ask a lot more questions although wouldn’t automatically drive me away because occasionally an employer will mean it in a good way.

    2. ThatGirl*

      The company I work for is no longer the company that hired me – we merged with a different company in 2022 and are now public – but when I was hired it was a family-owned company. Not a small one either – about 2,000 employees and a huge market share! The “about the company” part of the job description honestly put me off a bit – it was all about how [Company] is a family and we want you to join the [Company] family and so forth.

      But, obviously, I went through with the interviews and didn’t really get any bad vibes. While it was a little bit on the touchy-feely side, they really did seem to value their employees and rewarded us regularly. It was not perfect (still isn’t) but employee engagement and retention was a big thing.

      I will say, though, that the flip side of all this is that not everyone has a good family! Sometimes family is abusive or suffocating or just obnoxious.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        the flip side of all this is that not everyone has a good family! Sometimes family is abusive or suffocating or just obnoxious.

        Yep, if you’re trying to describe the culture to someone you don’t really know yet, it’s best to avoid analogies that could mean different things to different people, and instead stick to more clearly descriptive language: It’s a very collaborative environment. We have a culture that encourages us to be helpful when receiving requests and considerate when making requests. We expect managers to provide ongoing feedback, to include recognition their employees’ good work, and encourage employees to show appreciation for their peers’ good work.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      I work for a place whose owner thinks of employees that way, but they *never* use that phrase. (And they’re smart and realistic – you do what you can, but there’s only so much that’s possible.)

    4. Forty Feet*

      Yeah, I had the same experience in a previous job: after I got there a few staff often said “We’re a family here!” but in all the positive ways. It meant they made sure you were taking all of your vacation time while totally disconnecting, insisting that you go home when you came in sick, remembered your favorite treat for your birthday, asking how your pet was doing if you mentioned taking it to the vet, etc. I always look back fondly on that role and those wonderful people, and I know how lucky I was.

      1. Rosacolleti*

        I own a family business and have never used the words that we are a family’ though my employees do.
        If checking on people working past 5, offering the use of a car after an accident, babysitting in emergencies, noticing if people aren’t stopping to eat, extra paid leave in cases of DV or parents with terminal illness, spouses losing jobs etc means we’re not just an ethical employer but a family – i think it’s not for me to say. But as a 2nd generation business owner who holds these values close, I don’t think you can dismiss them. Life is hard enough.

    5. Peon*

      Yeah, my org is “like family” in that they encourage us to have work life balance, support us in taking time we need to take care of our spouses/children/parents, help us further our education, foster interests we might have outside of pure work, etc. And we celebrate people who leave for awesome new jobs or retirement or whatever, and welcome them back.

      We also have crappy raises, but that’s more a function of the bigger org and our industry.

    6. Sharkie*

      That is my experience now, even though I hate that wording of “Family” . I think it is just from the nature of our industry- public facing at one of the top organizations in our field, long hours, having to rely on each other to be successful. Of course you are going to grow close to your team. It is a fine line to balance though, leadership has to have the right mindset to make it work. If they don’t the whole thing fails.

    7. Dinwar*

      My boss has used the “We’re a family” line a few times, and like your experience it’s always been positive. She’s never used it in an interview; the only times she’s used it were when discussing how to help each other out, and a lot of us have worked together for a long time. Doesn’t hurt that our work screws with hierarchy–sometimes she’s my boss, sometimes she’s a member of my staff, it just depends on context. And the nature of the job is such that boundaries between “personal” and “professional” tend to blur anyway–you can’t work 6 days a week, 3 months straight, a few hundred miles from home, and maintain a hard line between personal and professional!

      Still, if someone said “We’re like a family” in an interview it would be a huge red flag to me. It’s one thing to say that when you’ve earned mutual respect and adopt a less transactional relationship with your group than is normal in business. It’s another entirely to try to establish that without the foundation of mutual respect and shared experiences.

    8. ecnaseener*

      This is timely for me, I’m in the interview process now with a hiring manager who used this line but seemed to mean it as “we care about you as people” and I’m wondering how to interpret it! When I asked what he meant by “like a family” he said all the right things — caring about employee well-being, it’s okay if what’s best for an employee isn’t what’s best for the office, importance of work/life balance, welcoming and supportive environment, etc. I genuinely got the sense that he meant all that and not “we expect you to be as committed to us as to your family.” It sounds like a more social team than I’m used to, but not in an inherently bad way.

      Howeverrrrrr, the other interviewer (outgoing person I’d be replacing) said “I don’t even think of him as my boss, he’s more like a friend!” lmao. But she was very gregarious overall so that might be more about her than him.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Yeah, I think there are things that people who have always experienced a phrase in a good context might not realize are actually kind of red flags – my company was BIG on the “family” language (and still is – our office-wide Teams group is “XYZ Family”) for a long time. It’s taken a few years of solid pushback from a small group of us for it to change on our team.

        Like, yes, I’m really friendly with my managers, I like them on a personal level and look forward to seeing visiting coworkers. I don’t hesitate to push back on things, and I speak up casually and comfortably, but there is a clear hierarchy, and if my boss tells me to do something, I do it. We take care of each other, we don’t put up with things we shouldn’t (I had to let my boss know I knew of some pretty serious sexual harassment going on and he handled it like a dream), and we encourage each other to take breaks, take vacations, get away and not think about work. We are happy when people join our team, and we give great going away gifts when people decide it’s time to leave, and the door is always open to come back. But it’s not a family, it’s a healthy work environment.

    9. Super Anon*

      Yeah, I think it depends on the culture or subculture you’re operating within. I’ve been in different work environments that have identified this way and none of them have been as dysfunctional as the large global corporate environment I worked in that didn’t identify this way that condoned workplace mobbing and breaking the law. I was once in an interview where I answered “like a family” to the question of what I am looking for where the hiring manager perceived this as a red flag, perhaps as a sign of immaturity or that I must be dysfunctional to be saying that. I meant where everyone is committed to working as a functional team and where there is a basic level of respect for the humanity in all of us, because this is what a past employer that used this turn of phrase meant, and I had been in other environments that lacked these basic elements. That said, I’ve also worked in family-run businesses that were super dysfunctional. Asking for more specificity and paying attention to tone and body language should provide the needed clarification. It was a red flag for me that the interviewer made a sweeping assumption without seeking clarification.

    10. Ellis Bell*

      There are people who understand how functional families work, and I don’t think those types of people use it as interview level hype. For one thing, at that point in time you’re both strangers, who should be using a critical approach and treating any gush with sceptism. Its a bit like saying “Go on another date with me and I’ll act like we’re married”. Also, do not date that person.

      1. Dinwar*

        It’s rather amazing how much dating advice is applicable to the workplace. A work relationship is a relationship, and general relationship advice doesn’t top being useful merely because the relationship is worker/employee!

    11. anontoday*

      Yeah, I can see why it MIGHT be a red flag, but honestly, it’s not always. I work for a small company – nearly 20 years – and while it’s not something that’s commonly said, I’ve often heard reference to the fact that we’re “like family”. But it’s not a dysfunctional office, we’re all treated well, paid well, and have little drama. And I can’t even begin to tell you how kind and supportive my colleagues have been during the loss of both of my parents over the years.

      Maybe I’m the outlier, but I like working with people who genuinely care about me – both professionally and personally.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Maybe I’m the outlier, but I like working with people who genuinely care about me – both professionally and personally.

        Me too, but there are better ways to say that than “we’re a family”, and while I appreciate my coworkers caring about me, I don’t want them to be pushy or guilt-tripping or even ask too many personal questions (it’s different if I *choose* to share private info).

        There’s also the idea that you can’t leave a family, whereas it’s really healthy to leave a job a lot of the time. (Or sometimes you get laid off.)

        I really do like most of my coworkers, but they’re my friends and warm colleagues, not my family.

        1. Also-ADHD*

          I feel like “team” is a better analogy for this than family, though. My team is very warm and connected and it’s awesome, but family is such a loaded term. We’re a community, a team, etc, but we’re all choosing to be here, and none of us would be here if we weren’t getting paid. I think you can genuinely care about your team, though, she’s it’s lovely when you do.

    12. goddessoftransitory*

      My job is similar–they don’t bother with the lip service, they just give good wages and easy access to health care (you only have to work 30 hours a week to sign up) with 401K matching.

    13. amoeba*

      Yeah, I’ve also had somebody state that in an interview, where it definitely meant “we try to avoid mass layoffs because we actually care about the people who work here”. I think it really depends on the rest of the vibes you’re getting!

  2. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

    Sigh. My last job said this all the time. And what Alison warns about legit happened. You were expected to put this job before family, health, vacations, everything. I suggested saying “team” instead to some colleagues and in my Glassdoor review! Of course the cultural shift will take longer and may never change. And yet they were shocked when I left…

    1. Shopping is my cardio*

      My last job used that too. We were a family who expected us to help move the office from one building to another when we moved buildings. Most people showed up on a Saturday to load things in their cars to move boxes, files, computer equipment.. Totally bananas. I didn’t and I got the cold shoulder on Monday when I showed up to work, oh well. I am long gone and I have never looked back.

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        I’ve done the office move, but that was very explicitly a “can we pay you extra to come in and help move so the stuff you care about gets treated properly”. I was a contractor on a fixed daily rate but they paid 1.5x my daily rate for about 6 hours on a Saturday.

        The “family” thing in an interview would make me want to say “can I borrow your car for the weekend”. Just so I could say “ah, not a close family or one that tries to help each other then”.

      2. Just Another Cog*

        My last “like a family” job expected all the employees to bring appetizers for their open houses. We were expected to bring both a hot and cold appetizer, enough for 100-150 people. I hate to admit that I and others fell for their phoniness that they really cared about us employees. The owners were just cheapskates and we all provided the free catering for their marketing. Live and learn, I guess.

    2. Sassy SAAS*

      Yup…. I also worked for a place like that. It was a very small business, and since the owner had made the business HER life, we were all expected to do the same. I got push back when I said I wouldn’t answer non-emergency questions on the weekends (I finally put that boundary in place after the first year, and after literally starting therapy to deal with my insane ex-boss). The owner cut off childhood friendships because those people didn’t want to hang out at work events (they weren’t supportive enough of her business). This eventually lead to a complete breakdown of any work-life balance. The owner took everything personally, as a suggestion on how to better run her business was an attack on her. Even a few years later, I have to keep her blocked on social media because it’s like a jump scare to see her pop up in my feed!

    1. Never again*

      Funny that’s what happened when I worked for my Family’s company. Timecard shenanigan, mom yelled at me for getting hurt on the job even though I never filed a work comp claim, and as retaliation they didn’t schedule me for 3 weeks. I filed for unemployment and ended up with my stepdad screaming at me calling me a “liberal mooch of the state” and that “I was taking from hard working Americans”.

      I didn’t mention that this was right after I left the military. Stepdad was cut off long ago and my mother got cut off recently. Neither of them can understand why their kids won’t talk to them even though we spelled it out for them. Yeah any company that says they operate like a family will have me walking the other way

    2. Magenta Sky*

      Generally, “We’re all family here” has a silent addendum of “We’re like that family that keeps that creepy uncle who will ‘show you his if you show him yours’ in the attic, except for holiday dinners, and will beat you with a belt if you try to report it.”

      That kind of family.

      (There are exceptions, but most of them don’t ever use that phrase or anything like it, for reasons that should be obvious.)

  3. DramaQ*

    When they say that I always want to be like “I get enough of that drama at home, the LAST thing I want you to be like is “family””

    1. honeygrim*

      My last boss–who was terrible at managing people–did have a good response for this. When she heard a colleague describe us as “like a family” (which I didn’t see at all), she said “if this were truly my family, I’d be sitting here in my pajamas.”

    2. Reply: all*

      Wait, is this family like “Ohana means family.” where you cherish and care for each other, or “But he’s faaaaammmiily!” when you’re asked to bail Uncle Rick out of jail again? In my experience, the workplaces that really push the “We’re like family” rhetoric are the ones whose Christmas dinner ends when the cops show up. They’re a hot mess, and they won’t work on it, but you’re stuck with them.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep. I always want to respond to that statement with “Have you met my family?” Because I do not need to be dealing with that kind of stuff at work, as well.

  4. Jessen*

    I have wanted to respond to this with “I haven’t talked to my family in four years for a reason.” Because inevitably these jobs act like my sort of family.

    1. FricketyFrack*

      RIGHT? My extended family is mostly racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful. Even the tolerable ones are selfish and don’t seem to understand that not everything is about them. If my job is anything like my family, I want out immediately.

      1. Jessen*

        Yah. We know Uncle Joe always makes sexist jokes, but that’s just him and you have to put up with it because family is not a dynamic that ought to be replicated as work. And all too often when workplaces say they’re like family, that’s the kind they mean.

    2. ferrina*

      Exactly this. My family of origin is impressively terrible, and with different types of terrible in different branches of the family. Part of it is mental health issues (I joke that the DSM started out as a history of my family), part of it is generational trauma, part of it is cruel choices, a lot of it is all of the above. My childhood gave me PTSD.

      I’ve spent over a decade studying psychology and recovering from the hurt and unhealthy survival strategies. I come across as well-adjusted, highly functional, cheerful and unusually astute and empathetic (read: redirected hypervigilance into advocacy). No one would guess the abuse I went through.

      I can tolerate a little bit of faaaaaaamily talk, but when I get sick of it, I share a couple stories from my childhood. That usually makes the conversations unbearably awkward, and people generally don’t bring it up again.

      1. Super Anon*

        Good for you. I appreciate knowing you are out there. I think this kind of thing does give one a lot of compassion, and the ability to relieve the suffering of others going through difficult things. I bet if someone shared a difficult experience from their childhood with you, you would take in their story without making it awkward.

        On another note, it’s interesting that you don’t like too much family talk. That might be something to look at more closely. I think it’s possible to get to a place where, despite the awful things you have had to learn to survive and make peace with from childhood, you can actually enjoy family talk.

        Sometimes in these kinds of family talk conversations, people will blame YOU as the problem if you share something that is clearly NOT your fault but risks shattering their belief that all families are loving and supportive. This can be very painful to experience.

        1. ferrina*

          Oh, I’m fine with family talk. Want to tell me about your kids or your plans to spend a holiday with your parent? Cool! Sound like lovely people!
          It’s the faaaaaaamily part that gets me. The “you only have one mother! Make sure you say thank you to her” or “family is all you have” or “it’s important to spend holidays with your family” type stuff. If that’s how you and your family operate, great. But some people take that as license to tell others how to feel about their own family. That’s what gets me.

      2. Frustration Nation*

        Yep! The “We’re a family” thing is so common in the small non-union (read: exploitative) TV production companies I often work for, because no one has any business or management education, and I finally responded to one comment in a meeting very bluntly “My family is so incredibly abusive that I moved to the other side of the country to get away from them. Is that what you want me to think of?” Cue the immediate backpedaling.

  5. Keymaster in absentia*

    The flip side of ‘like a family’ often means that offensively bad behaviour gets tolerated or even excused because, well, ‘we’re a family!’.

    I mean, I put up with my horrifyingly racist/homophobic grandma for years because she was my grandmother. But that’s family. If someone at work spouted off half the stuff she came out with during my wedding I’d fire them.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      That’s exactly right. “Because faaaamily” is an excuse for putting up with (or being forced to put up with) behavior you never would put up with in a friend, neighbor, or coworker (at least at the kind of job where it’s NOT “like family!”).

      In any case, many people these days are quicker to distance themselves from abusive or dysfunctional family. I know there are lots of different opinions on this, but I think nobody should be forced to put up with abuse.

      A job is a place where you go to perform particular tasks in exchange for being paid. There is no emotional or moral commitment, and while loyalty to family is, in many cases, commendable, loyalty to a *company* is…naive at very best, makes you a sucker and a chump at worst.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      It always ends up with a double standard of “you have to put up with grandma because she’s your grandma, but we don’t have to put up with you so much as complaining about it.”

      Once you frame it correctly, it’s obviously about taking sides, and they will always take sides with the one who is the most abusive, out of fear, if nothing else.

    3. Busy Middle Manager*

      Conversely I’ve turned into the “mouth” in my family because some people need a wake up call (things like me proverbially shaking someone on the verge of becoming a hoarder). I’d never talk to coworkers that way unless I knew them for decades and we had really deep history.

  6. french fry*

    “But, they’re FAMILY!” has been used in families and workplaces alike to justify all kinds of really abusive, toxic behavior. I live for the day when I am, and others are, no longer gaslit by this phrase.
    Ironically, families and workplaces never seem to need to make such declarations. They’re just decent people doing right by each other.

    1. french fry*

      somehow the functioning was deleted out of the comment above… functioning families and workplaces never seem to need to make such declarations.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Totally. I had a grad school prof who would always tell people that he was a “nice guy,” when in fact he was a gaslighter (among other things) and I was like, “You keep saying those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.”

        1. ferrina*

          That was a lesson I wish I’d learned earlier- anyone that has to say they are a “nice guy”, isn’t.
          Real nice people don’t need to tell you they are nice. They will just be nice.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            Real nice people don’t care if you know they’re nice. If they’re *actually* nice, it doesn’t *matter* if you know it, they’re still nice.

            The *only* reason to tell someone you’re nice is because you know they won’t notice otherwise.

          2. vito*

            I always tell people that I am vicious, mean and rotten…and it is so much fun.
            (but they don’t believe me for some reason)

    2. french fry*

      that should read — FUNCTIONING families and workplaces never seem to need to make such declarations

  7. Mytummyhurtsbutimbeingbraveaboutit*

    In my experience the biggest “we’re like a family” benefit is “you can mooch off of our health insurance rates”

    1. Evil Queen of Dysfunction*

      HA. The “Family” I worked for got the company employees the cheapest, most inconvenient insurance possible but got private insurance for themselves. Then got mad if I had to leave early to go the pharmacy, that I had to go to, but only was opened M-F during work hours.

  8. 2024*

    My dept mgr once described our dept as a family during a work meeting with the top dog. I just looked at her across the table. Family …means the people she likes, not the ones she does not. Typical family behavior.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      At least in theory.

      I kind of liken it to one of those survival shows, where we’re all in it together to a point, but when someone’s going to be eaten by the coyote, everyone is going to point to someone else as the logical candidate.

    2. Monkey's Paw Manicure*

      Because if you make a mistake you have 40,000 people booing and yelling that you suck?

      1. Elle by the sea*

        That’s a weird take. :) I didn’t include the mention of fans. Yeah well, customers might boo.

        No, it’s because maximising performance is paramount, the company wants to be the best at what they are doing, a particular employee’s performance depends on all team member’s performance, and people struggle together, pull each other up and help each other perform better.

  9. Slartibartfast*

    I briefly worked at such a place, was told the staff would “occasionally” get together for bonding activities.

    In reality, it was once a month, all day long, they’d close the clinic and pay the staff to be their friends. It was bizarre and they were very micro managing and controlling across the board.

    1. ferrina*

      “We’re like family…..we’re maladaptive and toxic, so people outside our social system immediately see the red flags and run for the hills. Rather than do the self-reflection and work needed to foster healthy social connections, we’ll foster co-dependency among the more vulnerable members of our social system who have limited or no options, and we’ll force them to inappropriately take responsibility for fulfilling our social needs.”

      1. Dinwar*

        I think it’s more likely that it’s Cargo Cult thinking. I saw this in college–they saw that dorms that were really close-knit (I was fortunate enough to be in one) tended to do a lot of activities together, so obviously if you make the residents do a lot of activities they’ll become close-knit! They never figured out that we set up things like Halo tournaments, poker games, and the like because we genuinely enjoyed being around each other. Nor did they figure out that forcing a bunch of late-teen/early-twenty kids to do something always backfires.

        Similarly, a lot of jobs see that well-functioning teams tend to do things together. They’re not just coworkers, they’re friends as well. So the bosses figure if we make them do things and act like friends, we’ll have a well-functioning team! In fact, though, the reverse is true: You end up with resentment, hostility, a breakdown of professional norms, and an incredibly inefficient team.

        Most offices engage in this to some extent–every “team building exercise” is this–but some take it to wild extremes.

        1. BellsBellsBells*

          This is astute thank you. We have annual offsite retreats of three days where maybe 8 hrs of work gets done but the boss likes to do fun outings… what you say is so true.

  10. Miss Chanandler Bong*

    I worked this job last summer which turned out to be terrible. I knew I’d made a mistake when I was at a company event and one of the directors said “We’re like a family here.”

    Lasted about three months. They were so completely dysfunctional.

  11. Joie De Vivre*

    My supervisor claims the department is “like a family”. And yes, she is one of the most dysfunctional people I’ve ever worked with.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. Today’s culture of surprise layoffs can feel like Goodfellas when Joe Pesci “gets made.”

      1. Distracted Procrastinator*

        In the kitchen, it’s more like the dysfunctional family type environment. Including the part where you have to put up with sexual harassment and gender discrimination because “they are just like that and you should just ignore it.”

    1. LCH*

      yes, i don’t think i’ve ever had a workplace claim to be like a family, but if one did, i would be tempted to ask what type of family. haha, this would be a good example they could choose from.

  12. Orora*

    Response when someone says that in an interview:

    “Great! I look forward to being employed here for the rest of my life. You can’t fire your family, after all!”

    Watch how quickly you’re disowned from the family.

    1. ferrina*

      Oh, but you can.
      I fired* my dad when I turned 18- luckily he refused to call me or pay child support, so it was pretty easy to do. He was an underperformer who deserved the axe. The rest of the team was much more productive without him.

      *not literally. I went no contact. He made it easy- I just stopped calling him and waited for him to reach out to me. Eventually he reached out after a few years, and now we’re at very low contact, exchanging superficial pleasantries every few years.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      (In point of fact, legally, it’s actually easier to fire family, for even less reason. But people who tell you “we’re all a family here” are generally too incompetent to know that.)

  13. chocolate lover*

    My family is completely dysfunctional. I shudder at the idea of working any place that says they are like a “family.” It’s definitely not a plus in my mind.

  14. NMitford*

    Back in my fundraising days, I hard a cartoon on my bulletin board either from the Chronicle of Higher Education or the Chronicle of Philanthropy that showed two people talking with the caption, “Our board members are just like family — dysfunctional, manipulative, and co-dependent, but family nonetheless.”

    My boss made me take it down.

  15. night cheese*

    I worked for a very small office in my 20’s – the wife was the owner and the husband was the bookkeeper. “wE’rE a fAmIlY!!!” was the constant refrain. And how: the husband stopped speaking to me after I sided with a coworker over a minor disagreement, and I found out later they basically disowned one of their children.

    1. ferrina*

      My family handed out silent treatments like Halloween candy. Not a great model for efficiency.

      I guess I did learn how to constantly nurture side channels for information and how to coax information out of people who hate me. Unfortunately, those skills have ended up serving me well in my career.

  16. Copyright Economist*

    I have worked for a very small Canadian government department for almost 14 years. We have only 20-25 employees. We really feel like a family. I can see how this term might feel different in the private sector.

    1. Andy*

      I am imagining a Parks n Rec x Schitt’s Creek situation and I am LOVING IT. 12/10 would watch your life/ be in that family.

        1. Dinwar*

          Reminds me of a scene in How I Met Your Mother. Robin was dating a therapist, and the therapist snapped at the gang, explaining just how toxic and horrible their circle was. What makes for fun TV usually isn’t going to make for real-world fun!

    2. Audrey Puffins*

      I think the difference is whether the company says it or whether the employees say it. If my manager said that we were like a family, that would be an immediate red flag, but when someone on the same level as me said it, it was much easier to take as a description of warmth and closeness.

    3. Camp staff*

      I also work at a small place with very little turnover, and we do consider each other family (my husband works there too, so technically true for us!); we go above and beyond to support each other, help w/each other’s kids, etc, but it’s not something mandated by the bosses or dictated in interviews. It’s something that has developed naturally and organically over time. I also have a good relationship w/my family of origin, and am a big believer in found families, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me.

    4. Dawn*

      I’d still encourage moving away from that word. The word “family” is not positive for a lot of people, no matter whether they are public or private workers. I doubt every one of the 20-25 people on your colleagues experience that word positively. I teach in a high-poverty community and am a foster parent and many of the kids I work with would not see “we’re like a family” as a selling point. I cringe when I hear coworkers say that my similarly small, closely bonded school is “like a family.” No, we’re a highly effective team, partly due to our legitimate care for each other. In 2024, it’s very tone-deaf to assume your positive experience of family is anywhere near universal.

      As Alison said in the article, “team” has a much more neutral connotation that communicates support and care without meaning toxicity and abuse to people for whom, sadly, that is their experience of family.

  17. Sophia Petrillo is my spirit animal*

    My workplace has swapped out “family” for “community” when they moved us from being in the office 2 times a week to 3 times – we were “rebuilding our ‘community.'”

    1. Magenta Sky*

      We use “community” differently, as in “we’re an important part of the local community.”

      (And since we’re raised enough money for a local children’s hospital to have a brick in the wall of their new building, and a lab named after us, we mean it.)

  18. AnonInCanada*

    And, just like real extended families who one may actually be related to, workplaces who pull out the “but we’re fAmIlllEEeeEEeeEE!!!” card are doing it when they’re asking demanding unreasonable requests, money, or for you to do something unethical, or even illegal.

    Any boss that pulled that card would be met with a blunt “my family wouldn’t be as unethical or unreasonable as the one you’re trying to imply we’re a part of” statement from me. Then I’d walk away from this plethora of dysfunction.

  19. GreyjoyGardens*

    “We’re like family” is the biggest red flag, complete with Jolly Roger, that I encounter in interviews. It just means “we’re dysfunctional, have NO boundaries whatsoever, and will try and guilt-trip and exploit you. Oh and we expect the same kind of loyalty that actual family does!” (Alison pointed this out in her article.)

    Loyalty to family, unless they are abusive, exploitative, or criminal, is commendable. Loyalty to a company is for chumps. Companies have no loyalty or family feeling to their workers, why should workers be loyal to them? “We’re like family” usually translates to “we are like *abusive, exploitative, dysfunctional, enmeshed* family. RUN.”

    Ideally, a company treats you decently, pays you fairly, and your coworkers are people you can have pleasant relationships with – not (necessarily) friendships, but courtesy and politeness.

    Another couple of things about small family businesses and/or small founder-personality-oriented nonprofits in particular: they tend to promote and favor family members or those in the close circle of the nonprofit founder over “outsiders.” And, at worst, they become de-facto sheltered employment for dysfunctional people who are absolutely unemployable anywhere else (often horrible adult children of the owners, or friends of the founder in case of nonprofits) who can’t do the work and make life h-e-double-toothpicks for their coworkers and supervisors.

    Yes, I have a lot to say about “we’re like family” and none of it is good.

  20. Always Tired*

    I always think “So like, the functional loving side of my family? Or the “not allowed to be alone with grandpa and we only see them once a year” side?” And it’s always the latter. Always.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I would love to have the courage and opportunity to say this. I’m going to store it up and wait for a time that feels right.

  21. Library Lady*

    While my current job didn’t use this phrase when I was hired, they did use “small but mighty,” which ultimately translated to “We take pride in intentionally underpaying and overworking our minimal number staff.” But we didn’t fully realize the extent until this past year when we had an amazing new boss come on board, who took one look at our workplace and dismal pay, said, “Yeah this isn’t right,” and made some huge organizational changes, including a much-needed pay study. (My salary will increase by roughly 40-45% at the beginning of our next fiscal year.) So if a hiring manager says “small but mighty,” proceed with similar caution!

    1. Only Time Just Slipping Away*

      I interviewed at a small business that said right up front they payed a rate that was less than 70% of market, asked me how I felt about working with difficult personalities (a family member office manager), and held a prayer circle each morning. Buh-Biyee! At least they warned me, but they were clearly filtering to get a staff that would be attracted enough to the praying that they’d be willing to forgo the paying.

    2. Mimmy*

      I interviewed with a student-facing department at a mid-sized university 1.5 years ago, and the hiring manager said “we are a small but mighty team”; I took it to mean that they work well together and make a difference for the students seeking support from this office. Yikes, now I know to be careful next time I hear that!

  22. Dust Bunny*

    The place I worked that was like this it mostly meant ridiculous favoritism toward a few select employees.

  23. OMG It's 2024*

    Yeah I don’t want my work to be “family”. I don’t want them on vacation with me. I don’t want to pay their bills. I don’t want some patriarchal wingnut boss trying to “Father” me or some 60 year old Exec Admin trying to “Mother” me or tell me my skirt is too short. I want to work with adults who treat their colleagues like competent adults, and then wish them a good evening/weekend and go home.

    On a side note, I also am not a fan of people saying “My Mom/Spouse/Daughter etc.. is my best friend.” For me that’s also a nope. My best friend is the one I drink with and COMPLAIN about all of those other people to! I love them. I enjoy spending time with them. The hubs and I have been happy for 40 years of our personal roller coaster, but I don’t ever tell people he’s “my best friend.” I don’t want to have s*x with my best friend! A spouse is so much more and such a different relationship. And I love hanging out with my (now grown) children, and we can have a few drinks, play games, etc… but again, I’m their MOTHER… and that is the relationship that means the most to me. Ok, tangential non-essential rant over!

  24. r.*

    I’m a domestic abuse survivor. The details don’t matter much (and might bring up back painful memories) for the purpose of this.

    Telling me that you’re “like family”[1] probably does not send the message you thought it would. Then again, given the type of manipulation and other toxic patterns of communication and pressure many (most?) such places employ in their labor relations, it could perhaps be said that it tends to send a more accurate message to me than it would to many others.

    That’s probably the most damning thing of all about that particular claim.

    [1] I am perfectly aware that for most people the term carries loving, joyful associations, and I am happy for you. :-)

  25. BBB*

    uggghhhh my bosses all say this and I cringe every time! I really hope it’s a mindset and phrasing that retires sooner rather than later. my department is fine to work in because we are not a family! stop scaring off the new hires with that phrase, boss!

  26. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    I had a workplace that did have the rank and file calling themselves “like a family,” which is worrisome for abuse, but still a red flag. The team had over-bonded and it was difficult to integrate as a new hire.

    Then came the layoffs. The grieving was real.

    By all means, make friends at work! But keep your commitments to friends and work distinct.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      That’s a good point. Even if the workplace is like a *good* family, layoffs happen. Also there is that whole cliquish, tight-knit aspect that is almost like a small town or old neighborhood as well as a family: Newcomers Not Welcome. Since people don’t stay at a company for life anymore, in most cases, that’s terribly demoralizing for the new person.

  27. Chocoholic*

    We have a small office (about 25-30 employees) and when I am doing interviews, candidates often ask me to describe the culture of the org. I describe it as a close-knit org (which is true) and that we genuinely want to know our co-workers as people.

    We had an employee who had a baby in 2022, and I used the example that she brought the baby in a couple of times during her maternity leave to show him off. Its the type of culture where she wants to bring in her baby, and we want to see the baby.

    I have not said “family” but it feels like it is skirting the edge. What would be a better way to answer that question of describing the culture. People want to know you, etc but also don’t get all up in your business the way “family” sometimes does.

    1. Luna (the other one)*

      I made a comment down below, but how about the word “community” instead? “We’re a friendly, supportive community.”

      1. RVA Cat*

        Same goes for Dr. Phil – we can’t have employees saying “cash me outside…”!

  28. Coffee Owlccountant*

    Maybe it is a sign that I read too much AAM because as soon as I saw the headline on Slate, I knew immediately what those five words were.

    They are enough to give me the shivers.

  29. Clisby*

    This “like a family” thing always reminds me of people who complain they want public agencies run “like a business.”

    Uh, I think you really don’t. Not even taking into account how many businesses fail every year, do you really want your fire department or your school district delivering services based on how how much profit they’re going to make?

    1. Hermione Danger*

      Based on other demographics of the groups that tend to say that, yes. I think they do. Because they think being too poor to attend anywhere but the state college is a moral failing.

    2. RVA Cat*

      They want the Gangs of New York dystopia (literal for-profit firefighting!) because they assume they’d be the rich robber barons profitting from the squalor and corruption.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Ugh, that idea comes back every decade or so and it is ALWAYS a terrible idea. Ross Perot, I blame you for SO MUCH.

    4. Your Mate in Oz*

      Especially fire departments. The US and UK both imposed government-run fire departments after gaining experience with privately run ones. No matter how much one side of politics likes to pretend government is always the problem, having a fire brigade turn up and watch your family burn to death because you haven’t got the right subscription is worse. They’re just there to make sure the fire doesn’t spread to one of their subscribers.

  30. TigerPants*

    My very kind boss occasionally says the family comment about our small team (10 people in a 3000 person org) and follows it up with “but, you know, in the good way, not the dysfunctional way!”

  31. RinaL*

    I worked in my fair share of small companies, most of them used the „We are family phrase“. I had a boss, who yelled in staff meeting and took it personally, if the newest addition to the team had no idea that they were colorblind. clearly a personal insult, because „family“ would know!
    A „family“ that guilt tripped me into staying at home for my whole pregnancy so they didn‘t have to pay me – and kicked me out when I was back from maternity leave.
    A family, that agreed to my working hours upfront.. and complained 2 weeks later that I leave to early every day and if I really loved the family, I should stay late like everyone else.
    I also had a „family“, where the owners hated each other and refused to talk with each other – dysfunction par excellence.

    Nobody can pay me enough to ever work for a „family“ company again!

  32. pally*

    “We’re like a family here.”

    I’d like to know: a family of what? Lions? Hippos? Elephants? Dolphins?

    1. ferrina*

      Family of Titans.
      The head will preemptively lock away all younger members so no one can seize power from him.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Then the grandkids will rebel against them, cast their elders into the underworld and fight each other while f***ing around leaving little demigods everywhere.

  33. Luna (the other one)*

    I work at a school. Many teachers have their own kids enrolled here. We would probably be more justified than many places with calling our school a “family” but I much prefer what our higher-ups actually call us, which is a community.

    Community implies that we are all connected, that we matter to each other, that what we do affects each other, that we all have responsibilities and contributions to make. I don’t want to be be family at work, even if I were working with my actual family members. But community? I can handle that.

    1. Selina Luna*

      That even lends itself to a few kids-of-teachers attending school. You would expect there to be families inside of a community. My school also uses community. I think it might just be the “thing” that schools use these days?

  34. Just Say No to Hugging*

    I worked for a very large international US-based company and EVERY time you met up with one of your colleagues you were supposed to hug them. Yeah, like ewwwwww! Male or female it didn’t matter. Being hugged by your boss and colleagues that you just met or watching your bosses boss get hammered at a conference (where he quizzed me about my ‘husband’; only problem was I have never been married to anyone — It was almost as if he kept saying it long and loud enough, my imaginary husband would appear!) — was not my thing! They also paid their employees to write GlassDoor reviews so they could use that in their sales pitch that the employees love working there. So glad I only wasted 8 months of my life on them.

    1. I'm sorry, what?!?*

      I am physically recoiling as I read this. No. Never. I already have a reputation as a reluctant hugger, and I don’t think I’m the weirdo for not wanting to hug people I don’t know. Absolutely not hugging random coworkers!

    2. Busy Middle Manager*

      This is a new corporate culture thing too, since covid and WFH. People act like they’re reuniting with a long lost friend, just because you haven’t seen eachother in a month in person. Even though you see eachother on calls pretty regularly. It’s kinda weird to me because I’ve seen these people who are hugging talking to eachother on zoom all month, and I’m not even bothered by hugging in general, it’s just overkill!

    3. pally*

      This is off the charts in terms of my Ick Meter.
      Not gonna be the hugger or the huggee.

      Nope! Nope! Nope!

      Would they write me up for refusing to hug?

    4. amoeba*

      Wow. That’s off the rails.

      And I’m actually a hugger, like, in my private life. At work? Yeah, well, maybe a few close work friends when I haven’t seen them in a while, sure. My boss? All my colleagues? Every time I see them? Absolutely not.

  35. Dinwar*

    I think the issue is the nature of the relationships in business vs. family.

    In a business, relationships are entirely transactional. I’m here because you pay me. I’m going to do what I agreed to do, plus a bit more most of the time (it’s who I am), but if you ask me to do things that I’m not being paid to do or which don’t benefit me in ways I want, I’m not going to do them. With coworkers, there’s the underlying fact that we’re only interacting because of the paycheck. Without that, we’d probably never have met one another.

    In a family, the equation is different. Ideally within a family we help each other (within reasonable limits of course). You’re willing to go much further–commit much more time, effort, and emotional effort–on the premise that they’ll do the same if you need them to. And the shared experiences are more intimate. Not referring to physical intimacy, but….like, I remember my sister and I helping each other through teenage emotional struggles, and my father teaching me ethics, and my mother teaching me how to care for children (and that sometimes you need to interrupt homework because there are more important things).

    Trying to apply one relationship style to the other is going to end horribly most of the time. A family that interacts on a transactional basis is going to be horribly dysfunctional, and in fact it’s a sign that your relationship is in serious trouble. On the flip side, a work environment that expects the level of commitment a family naturally has is frankly abusive, and coworkers that rely on one another for the sort of emotional support and character development that families naturally generate is going to be, ironically, extremely fragile (it only takes one bad actor to turn this into a toxic soup).

  36. Selina Luna*

    I worked for my actual parents for three years. For me “like a family” meant getting paid half what someone in my position would have actually made (admittedly, they also gave me free room and board and paid for college classes, but this was not considered part of my compensation and indeed, my “salary” was directly sent to the university and not actually given to me). “Like a family” when it was my literal family meant that I had to deal with my dad’s temper at work in a way that I would NEVER have tolerated from an employer. And my dad’s not even a bad guy! I hate to imagine working for parents who are actually abusive. “Like a family” meant that I had to be personally present for financial conversations with my parents that, as an employee, I should not have been party to, too.
    When a business says they’re “like a family,” I assume based on working for my actual family that I will be underpaid (but told that the “benefits” make up for the pay shortage), that I will be party to drama and finances that are really none of my concern, and that I will spend way more time than is comfortable with my employers.

  37. OrigCassandra*

    Run by a Type-A workaholic married to an alcoholic?

    Oh, I guess that’s just my family of origin.

    But I am beyond uninterested in a workplace formed on this model.

  38. Dennis Johnson*

    Ehh- alot of that is just PR talk. Doesn’t matter what they say but what they do. Or as the cliche goes, actions speak louder than words

  39. Bex (in computers)*

    I have had a number of job interviews over the years where it was mentioned they were “like a family”.

    The only one I accepted was for a field technician role. The hiring manager said, “we’re like a family here – we like to keep some distance between us all, just like a real family, but we’ll remember to send you something for your birthday and the holidays!”

    Considering I purposefully live 700+ miles from my family, I appreciated the honesty and the humor alike. And, it was a great role.

  40. TeaCoziesRUs*

    Legit question – if you’re in an interview and someone says that, has anyone had success parsing what the interviewer means? I’m blunt enough to actually say, “Yeah, Jerry Springer and daytime soaps are full of families. Can you define what you mean by that?” I’m not sure if it would go over like a lead balloon or lead to some interesting answers.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I mean, you don’t have to frame it like that. You can just ask, “Can you define what you mean by that?” and see what they say. If they give a vague or unhelpful answer, you can then zero in and be more specific about the things that would give you pause that they *could* mean: “What is your management style?” “What involvement does the executive team have, if any, with the work the person in this position will be doing?” “What is the relationship like between the staff and the owner/management?” “One of my priorities in my next role is having a healthy work/life balance with standard (or flexible) hours and little to no overtime (+ any caveats that make sense, like fields that have busy periods during a limited part of the year). Does that sound feasible for this role? How does Company A support the work/life balance of its employees?”

      You’re not expecting them to come out and say “This is a horrible place to work and you should run.” You’re listening to read between the lines. Example: I went through a lengthy interview process a few years ago for a well-respected non-profit in my field. There were at least 5 interviews before I dropped out. In each one, I was asked how I would feel about not having my name on things I wrote (i.e., ghostwriting policy statements for the CEO without credit) and other questions that felt designed to probe how I would feel about getting a lot of corrections/edits on my written work. While I don’t really have an ego re: bylines or redlines, it raised some flags for me that it kept coming up over and over, so I reached out to some people who used to work there and confirmed my suspicions that there was a high level of oversight there bordering on micromanagement. As someone that is highly independent and likes to work autonomously, I noped out of that process. I guess my point in retelling that story is that there are also other sources of information about the work culture outside of the interviewers that may be able to give more honest answers to your questions about company culture.

  41. Generic Name*

    Also see: “We are a ‘clan’ culture”, which as far as I could tell meant that there was inappropriate fraternization and cliques that meant that the folks in the “in” group could do whatever they wanted and those who didn’t have an “in” missed out on working on the cool projects or raises or stock ownership opportunities. Oh yeah, pay was sub-par. When I finally left, one of the principals practically screeched, “But what about the flexibility?!?”. My job is just as flexible as my last one. Just with better pay and benefits.

      1. M2RB*

        seriously – clan or kl@n?? As someone who grew up in Georgia (in southern USA), if I heard “clan culture”, I would have a hard time not judging the sh!t out of whoever said that for being tone-deaf at best and racist at worst.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I didn’t grow up in the South but I’d be wondering, as well. Or else I’d think of Scottish Highland clans and think “so we wear kilts and play bagpipes around here?”

          Either way, cliquishness leads to toxicity (remember the Carrie letter?) and lack of reasonable boundaries also makes for a toxic workplace.

          I agree with other commenters that if you want to put “we’re close, mutually respectful, and mutually supportive” in a good context, “we’re like a community here” is best.

          1. NotSoRecentlyRetired*

            As an aside…
            I had an interviewer once in full kilts. This was for a software development job in the 1990s. It was not near Halloween or any other costume event – he just liked to wear a kilt. Maybe it was more comfortable to him in our 100+ degree summertime temperatures in the US Southwest? He had already accepted a transfer to the another division of the same company and we ended up talking about mutual acquaintances at a previous company/location.
            I didn’t get hired.

        2. amoeba*

          In my country, that word (clan, not the other one) is basically only used for organised crime, so yeah, different reason, but definitely a horrible look.

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            There’s also the Clan of the Cave Bear book, in which Neanderthals’ name for themselves is “Clan.” So, it might mean “here in this workplace, when we say we are ‘paleo,’ we really mean it!”

        3. Emily Byrd Starr*

          It’s not just you. I’m from Massachusetts and that’s immediately what I thought of as well.

  42. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I feel like this is such a clueless thing to say even to people who *do* like and get along with their families! “We’re a family here!” Congrats, I already have a family and wasn’t looking for a second one.

  43. Daria grace*

    Absolutely. One of my previous jobs where they didn’t treat people that well managers were still prattling on about how we’re such a family….at the awkward lunch on our last day when we were getting laid off in favour of cheaper staff overseas. That’s quite a family

  44. Jonathan MacKay*

    If a prospective employer uses the “We’re like a family” line with a straight face, it’s entirely possible my follow up question would be “Addams or Soprano?”

  45. Michelle Smith*

    Jokes on them, my family thinks I’m a disappointment. Not interested in that dynamic in the workplace, thanks!

  46. Pizza Rat*

    After a horrid experience with a small family-owned business who used that line on me, I would also run for the hills.

    I lasted 3 months on that job. Gave notice on my birthday. Best present I got that year.

  47. Mmm.*

    I did flip this on a boss once, though. They were about to fire me during a particularly tough time getting out of an abusive relationship, particularly by telling security to ignore me when I said to not let him in.

    They also disapproved of this divorce because “we’re all family here, and that’s not who we are.”

    (Yeah, it made no sense.)

    So as they tried to fire me, I asked how they planned to support me, since we were a family here, and families help each other when they’re struggling.

    I kept my job and quit at the end of my contract.

    Family goes both ways, ya jerks!

  48. The Week Ends*

    I worked at a place that was family-owned and described that way. Every relative and generation worked there. It was so dysfunctional and like a soap opera, the number of affairs, divorces, marrying other people in the business, stepkids, kids out of wedlock, and they all continued to work together. Suffice it to say it was too dramatic every day and too much bull tolerated, but amazingly it was a successful business.

  49. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    My job says we’re like family. We’re all insane.* * I am sure there are many mentally healthy people but woah

  50. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    They say: “We’re like a faaaamily!”

    They mean: “The CEO is the drunk uncle and you’ll be treated like unwanted stepchildren.”

  51. CreatorMundi*

    A former co-worker of mine bragged about the company being “like a family”, to which I responded “That could mean The Brady Bunch or The Mafia.”

  52. tinybutfierce*

    They last “we’re a family!” company I worked for years ago literally had a section in the employee handbook that said the owner’s family was exempt to many of the items non-related employees were expected to follow (his son was VP, and granddaughter bounced around the company in whatever position she felt she should have).

    They were as dysfunctional a business and awful an employer as you would expect. :)

  53. Chirpy*

    My workplace likes to think of itself as family…yeah, maybe at the corporate office they get treated like adults, but store staff are clearly the children “ungrateful for the crumbs we give you”

    (really wish I could screen shot the memo that said “managers, cascade this down to your staff: if people are getting burned out, hold more potlucks”)

  54. HB*

    Something I’ve been thinking about…

    Even when the term is meant in the best possible way… isn’t there an ickiness factor to the idea that to treat someone with kindness, compassion, and respect means you have to think of them like family? Why aren’t those traits just the *base* requirement for human interaction? It feels a lot like telling men to think of women as someone’s mother, sister, daughter in order to get them to treat them like fully realized humans with interior lives and bodily autonomy.

    1. Dinwar*

      “Why aren’t those traits just the *base* requirement for human interaction?”

      There’s a difference between being professional and being family. Being professional means treating people with kindness and respect. But the respect I show my mother is different from what I show my boss–both in kind and in degree. Similarly, the respect I show my siblings is different in kind and degree from what I show my coworkers. (We grew up in the 90s–we communicate through sarcasm and cynicism, with a healthy dollop of concussive communication; I’d be fired and possibly jailed if I treated my coworkers like my siblings and I treat each other!)

  55. Donkey Hotey*

    Yeah, I worked for a “we’re family” company. The first three years, my desk was a ball toss to the CEO’s office, who was the grandson of the man who founded the company in 18XX. Didn’t stop HIS sons from selling the company and laying everyone off a few years later.

  56. Singleasapringle*

    My personal experience with ” a job that is like family” may be unique ( or possibly not) is that even in the most positive of experiences there are fundementals differences between work and family. For me, the blurring of those lines was not truly appearant untill I left my job and experienced a true grieving period. I didn’t realize how leaving my job would sever my relationship with both my collegues and my boss. In some ways it felt more like a break up then a job change. I have actually considered going to therapy to address these issues. For now I’m aiming to set good boundaries with co-workers.

  57. AnotherSarah*

    My grad school dept chair used this family business line as a reason not to unionize. I pointed out that 1) the family is where the most abuse occurs and 2) my actual family’s business is union. He was not pleased!!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      This is apparently Howard Schultz’s biggest bone in the throat with Starbucks unionizing–his dad was a cab driver who helped organize a union, so Schultz should be pro union, right? Nope; to him, unions are what you join when your job is irredeemably horrible, so those organizers were basically calling him a bad boss/bad father.

    2. Your Mate in Oz*

      Farm I grew up on was always a union workplace, in the “you don’t have to join, we don’t have to hire you” sense. It made our lives as employers *so* much easier. Especially with seasonal staff. Annual fruit picking season we’d go from 2 staff to 200 for six weeks. Having the union rep come round at the start and explain everything helped people understand the difference between legal minimum wage, what the union got them, and the perks we offered. Also that safety wasn’t optional.

      The union guy was a bit hopeless but he could do that, and the few times we had problems getting the “proper” union people in was always helpful. Think “best of legal advice” on reddit where the union rep is saying “yes, you can punch your boss. But then you go to jail. Is jail what you want?” (seasonal agricultural labour isn’t drawn from the top of the employability scale)

  58. Elsewhere1010*

    If I ever heard the we’re-a-family speech I’d run for the hills. The last time I spoke to a blood relative was September 1990. Life has been much better ever since.

    1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

      See, I’m with you on that! In the Slate article, where it says, “You don’t leave your family, after all!” my reaction was “Yes, yes I do.” *g*

      When I ended up in a disaster company (through no fault of my own, I woke up one morning and we’d been acquired), their welcome speech included the memorable line, “We want you to join us and love us and be part of our family, just as we want to love you and serve you.”

      ASIDE from the fact that the intersection of the people I love and the people I serve is the null set, they did not seem to realize that I was estranged from my entire birth family, and that that was not the great selling point they thought it was. Before they’d even flown us out to company headquarters, I was already telling coworkers that the trip-planning experience reminded me very much of my birth family. 2.5 days into the 5-day visit, I was sitting at my desk updating my LinkedIn profile fairly openly. :P I mean, I switched tabs if someone walked behind me, but I also didn’t care if I got caught. (We had no access to their systems yet, so we had no actual work to do between onboarding meetings anyway, so everyone was web browsing, and I had zero guilt about mine being LinkedIn.)

      That’s the only disaster company I’ve ever ended up at (briefly), and the only one that felt the need to advertise itself as being like family. Hmmm.

  59. Jules*

    Cracker Barrel’s website literally says “Join Our Work Family” instead of “Careers” or “Jobs” or anything else.

  60. Mimmy*

    A couple years ago at my current job, one of the supervisors started echoing the “we are family” sentiments, such as starting emails with things like, “Dear Teapot Center family!” It made me cringe every. time. Someone must’ve said something to her because it only lasted a short period, though she still occasionally gushes about how wonderful we are :/

  61. Brain the Brian*

    As far as I know, management doesn’t describe my company as “a family” in interviews. But our new CEO has been encouraging us to “share our feelings” in company-wide meetings so we can “better support each other” — which is just as annoying and boundary-violating, IMO.

    I do not need my coworkers to know that I am sad today because I had a fight with my partner last night. I do not need them to know my mother is dating someone less than a year after my father died and they all expressed sympathy to me. I do not need them to know I am bored as all hell with this meeting. I do not need them to know about my life for them to support me in my work, and vice versa. Can’t we just do our jobs and let that be that?

  62. Abogado Avocado*

    I work for government, which no one wants as their family or in their family. If anyone here were deluded enough to say, “But we’re a family,” I’d be tempted to respond, “What are you leaving me in your will?”

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        Someone told me once at a party that their company called itself family; I was surprised, but my husband joked, “Big Brother, or Mafia?”

  63. RamonaThePest*

    “Staffamily”–run, Forrest, run. I grew up in a dysfunctional family so it actually was true to my experience with family.

  64. The Dude Abides*

    At my first real job, both CEOs I worked under embodied it in different ways. There were about 20-25 FT staff, and a handful of PT/temps

    First one had his wife as No 2, their daughter as HR, and extended family as HR assistant and cleaning crew. HR head was perp walked when she was found to have been spoon-feeding confidential info to her parents (who had retired) in an attempt to undermine the new CEO.

    Second CEO also hired her daughter (who is now in charge of HR, ironic), and very much pushed boundaries in the stereotypical ways – forced team bonding, having to discuss our personal lives in front of everyone (two employees broke into tears in front of everyone).

  65. Carol the happy elf*

    The best jobs I’ve ever had were clear that we weren’t a family, we were intelligent, well-balanced coworkers who were expected to do the work, support each other’s tasks where possible, and get along rationally. Most of my long time work friends are from those companies.

    One place even had a (paraphrased) quote from the first line of “Anna Karenina”:
    “Well-managed workplaces are all alike.
    Badly managed workplaces are each different in their own dysfunctional ways.”

  66. Boof*

    I had someone who I supervised comment that our team was “like family” and admittedly I froze up because I’m so used to thinking of that as a red flag – albeit when your boss says it – I wasn’t sure what to say. I’m pretty sure they actually meant they felt like I was looking out for them, not just the bottom line @-@ Admittedly they also later decided to move on from the team so maybe it was a red flag for when things got stressy with covid etc (healthcare etc) IDK, this comment is random except “wonder what it means if someone you supervise says it / how to respond”

  67. RubyJackson*

    My brain response when I hear that phrase is, where do you fall on a scale between the Walton’s and the Manson’s? Both were families.

  68. merida*

    My question is… if you work at a company where it really is “like a family” in the classic dysfunctional way, what do you say when an interviewee asks about the company culture? I maybe worked at a company that proudly called itself a family (but it really meant “HR has no disciplinary power because that would be mean and we’re all family here!”) and I assisted in interviews with my boss. When asked about the team culture I was tempted to say “we’re like a family” with a wink and hope the interviewee would understand my coded language and run for the hills, haha… While there were some good components to the “family” feel, most of it was wildly unprofessional. I was much happier once I finally left.

  69. Emily Byrd Starr*

    I’m reminded of the letter from years ago where everyone at the work place was expected to cook and eat lunch together, because they were “like family.”
    As an aside, my old work place often referred to itself as “the (name of organization) family,” but that’s because it literally is a family center. It’s a nonprofit that serves families.

  70. Lauren*

    I recently interviewed at a different company which was in the same industry as mine, but about 10x smaller than mine. I’d been at Big Company for my whole career in this industry so I was keen to know about the culture and how it differed in Small Company given the huge difference in staffing. The interviewers seemed caught off-guard when I asked about culture (to be fair in my experience interviews are typically pretty one-way in my industry) and one of them used the “it’s like a family” line. That definitely raised a red flag for me and I was seriously considering whether I wanted to move forward with the application or not.

    Ultimately I got a rejection before I could decide one way or another, but a week or so later the annual staff survey results for my industry came out and Small Company was ranked as one of the worst for bullying and harassment so I absolutely dodged a bullet there!

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