Colleagues, not cousins

Saying “Welcome to the family!” to newly hired work colleagues is well-intentioned. We want people who join our team to feel a sense of belonging. We want them to know we are trying to create an inclusive environment. However, associating a work team with family fails to fulfill that intent for several reasons. I recommend using other greetings instead:

  • “I look forward to working/creating/collaborating with you because x.”
  • “Your expertise in x is exactly what we need right now to do y.”
  • “I am curious about x. I hope you will share your experience with y with me.”
  • “I like x, too. Let me know if you want to chat about it.”

Referring to work as a family sets the wrong expectations. Employment is a transactional relationship. A company should be an ally of families, but not something that competes—even conceptually—with actual family.

A company will not love you unconditionally, nor should it. Business leaders prioritize the survival and success of the business over any individual contributor. Netflix states this in its culture deck: “We’re a team, not a family. We’re like a pro sports team, not a kid’s recreational team. Netflix leaders hire, develop, and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position.”

On the other side, you should prioritize what is best for your career and life over what is best for your employer. Raising a child, caring for an aging parent, and supporting siblings require selfless acts of prioritizing others’ well being over your own. A company should never require making the level of sacrifice often necessary to support an actual family.

Lastly, not everyone has a positive association with family. Some people have been rejected by or have had to reject adoptive or biological family members for a variety of difficult reasons. Some people only have a chosen family. Work may be a respite from family obligations. Avoiding an unnecessary family association avoids a potential trigger.

My work colleagues have been the best part of working at several companies, but we were not family just because we exchanged our labor for wages in the same way. It’s ok to be just compassionate coworkers. If a deeper relationship happens, great! but it should not be an expectation or an obligation.

Olive Garden: when you're here, you're not family. You're exchanging money for breadsticks and people to serve you.