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A company is not a family

By Justin Pot · June 4, 2021
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What corporate jargon do you hate the most? I asked this question on Twitter recently and was surprised by the most common answer: "family." 

I thought I'd get a stream of nonsense—circle back, learnings, synergy, that sort of thing. I was looking forward to us all laughing together about something superficial, but that's not what happened. Because the answer "family" got me thinking (always dangerous), and that thinking made me start writing (we're really in trouble now).

Your company isn't a family, and I think pretending otherwise is unhealthy and unproductive. Let's talk about why. 

Families don't fire people

I bet you've disappointed your mother countless times—I know I've disappointed mine. Mom never fired me for poor performance, though, and she also didn't lay me off when quarterly projections didn't hit the target metrics. Family loyalty isn't based on performance because that would be absurd. 

But companies are different. They don't employ people out of love or loyalty because companies, by definition, can't feel those things. Your company employs you because what you do is valuable—at least, valuable enough to justify your salary. 

This isn't a bad thing. It's just the nature of what a company is. And sometimes that nature means a company needs to stop employing you. A healthy family doesn't kick people out, but it's normal—necessary, even—for a company to do that from time to time. 

Which is why companies shouldn't think of themselves as families. Companies have to make choices that families don't. Referring to your company as a family obscures that reality and can make a painful process feel even worse. 

Quitting a job isn't a betrayal

This works both ways. There are valid reasons to cut family out of your life, but I think most people would agree it's a sad thing to do. Quitting a job isn't—at least, not necessarily. 

You might quit your job because of a bad work environment, but it's far from the only reason. Maybe you found a role that fits you better, pays more, or offers a clearer opportunity for growth. Maybe you want to move to a different industry or work for a company that fascinates you. Or maybe you need to take a few years off work for personal reasons. 

The point is, quitting your job isn't a betrayal. It's just a thing that people do sometimes, for all sorts of reasons. There are many companies in the world willing to pay you for your skills and talents, and there's no reason to feel bad about leaving one for another. It's not any kind of permanent commitment. It's just work. 

Keep working at a job if you enjoy it, get meaning from it, or even just need the money in order to survive. But don't keep doing a job because you feel loyal to it. The company will fire you or lay you off if doing so makes sense, and you should feel free to leave for similar reasons. 

The company you work for doesn't love you

Healthy families love each other and respect each other, and that's the basis of your loyalty to them. A company can't love you. Companies are not capable of love—or hate, indifference, or any kind of emotion. Companies aren't people (as much as marketers like myself would like you to think they are).

And yes, it's possible that you're good friends with some of your coworkers, and you might even love some of them in a way that is real. The people I work with here at Zapier are some of my favorite people on earth, and I mean that sincerely. But it doesn't change that we're working together to sell you internet duct tape (really good internet duct tape that you should spend lots of money on, obviously, but internet duct tape all the same). 

I have, in the past, stayed at a job too long in part because I wanted to keep helping the people I was working with.

But you know what? I left the job and kept the relationships. Ultimately, if you leave a job, the people who wish you well will understand you're just doing what's best for you. 

To this day, I'm in touch with many of my favorite people from previous companies, and we all help each other out in our careers. I'm working at Zapier today in part because of that network of friends from previous jobs, and I know some of my friends can say the same thing. So I have a work family, of sorts. It just isn't defined by the company I work for. And that's how it should be. 

Business owners should keep this in mind. You might love your company, and that makes sense: you built it yourself, and you're proud of it. There's a chance that you also have some affection for your employees. That's great, but it doesn't mean your company is a family. A company can't be a family. 

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