If An Employer Says They’ll “Treat You Like Family,” Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Such a claim calls for a healthy dose of skepticism and a few key follow-up questions.
When my daughter officially entered toddlerhood, I found myself making frequent comparisons between her behavior and that of my company’s CEO. Both were highly unpredictable and stubbornly unresponsive to reasonable requests. Both behaved as though they were the center of the universe and were prone to temper tantrums when they didn’t get their way.
But at the end of the day, I had far more patience and grace (which, admittedly, was not always much) for my daughter than I did for my boss. For one thing, she was 18 months old. For another, I had birthed her from my own loins.
You could say that the CEO of that particular company treated his underlings “like family,” and you wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate. He made rules that were arbitrarily enforced. He yelled at us and took us for granted. He played favorites. He set high expectations that were often unreasonable, then shamed us when we failed to meet them.
Of course, I’m well aware that this is not what HR videos mean when they claim, “We’re like family!”
What these companies are trying to convey, of course, is that they look out for their own and support one another through thick and thin. The subtext is, “We’ve got your back,” and oh yeah, we’ll also throw a summer barbecue, give you a Christmas present, and maybe you’ll get cake on your birthday.
But these clichéd claims ring hollow, despite the astonishing frequency with which they are still bandied about. The lesson we keep learning the hard way is that most companies, even many so-called “family-run” companies, definitely do not have our backs. They will support us as long as we make them money and we don’t piss off the wrong people. They will demand our loyalty and the majority of our waking workweek hours, but if we become temporarily overwhelmed by personal challenges or if we inadvertently get on the bad side of someone with power, then we’re promptly shown the door.
As it turns out, we are expendable, always were. But we should never take it personally because hey, “it’s business.”