“Here at _____________, we’re more than a group of coworkers, we’re a family!”

Have you ever heard that from a manager at a job you’ve worked? From local pizza places to giant corporations, the “We’re all a family!” style of culture-building is one of the most popular ways to foster relationships in workplace settings. Some franchises, like Olive Garden, even extend that culture down to their customers.

The popularity of this sort of culture, though, has drawn ire from many employees who’ve experienced it. Some people simply see it as phony, while others believe it actually creates a more toxic work environment. This very author worked 10 days for a franchise that emphasized “family” while severely underpaying their staff to an extent that genuinely seemed illegal!

So, is the “family” work culture still a tried-and-true method of culture building, or is it something companies should leave behind? Let’s figure that out –


Research has been done on the importance of a “family” culture, and it actually bears its support. A Rivers State University study concluded that this sort of culture often brings a competitive advantage by successfully promoting commitment and productivity.

What’s less measurable is the relationships and trust the culture can foster. Ideally, a team will feel more comfortable, connected, and loyal to one another when they consider themselves a family. A best-case scenario company family will boost retention and communication tenfold, all while helping attract new talent.

This is where it gets tricky, though – the potential of a family culture is high, but it can go wrong just as easily. While it seems like a hokey little idea, it has a low floor, and can damage your workplace’s credibility from the moment that framed plaque is hung up on the wall by the front door. But how?


There can be plenty of downsides to a family culture, and what can be seen as genuine to one can be interpreted as toxic to another. The most common issue is probably just a team seeing their department’s “We’re all a family” claims to be a sham, and becoming increasingly annoyed at the disconnects between the supposed friendly atmosphere and its reality. Some employees are more cynical and would rather companies be upfront and professional rather than pretending to be something they’re not.

You might even employ people who carry negative associations towards a family unit; if they had a rough upbringing with few healthy relationships, they may very well want to avoid that dynamic and what it implies.

That all said, if you DO succeed in fostering a great, family-like culture, that should fix the possible cons, right? Not necessarily.

If you’re not careful, your team could end up becoming too much of a family. What does this mean? Well, think about some issues that would arise if you actually happened to work with your family. It would be difficult to fire your sister, wouldn’t it? And how would you delegate tasks?

That’s the risk you run when you try to make your working environment especially tight-knit; professionalism is replaced by favoritism, and certain business decisions become more difficult when your personal relationships become an additional factor.

Colleagues can become cliquey and interpersonal drama can arise that wouldn’t be found at companies that focus on business first. That’s not to say that favoritism is rare among teams that don’t call themselves families – far from it – but when you try to develop that family dynamic, it instantly feels more acceptable.

All this being said, branding your company culture a “family culture” isn’t necessarily a mistake. The mistake that most of these organizations do make is talking the talk before they walk the walk. The perfect family environment is one that values interpersonal relationships, but doesn’t let them interfere with productivity. If you really do feel like that’s true of your team, then you can go ahead and label it as such.

Calling your workforce a family will not make them one. If they’re more on the distant side, they’ll either think the new label feels fake, or they’ll think at some point a family dynamic was formed without them. 

So, be careful about what you call your culture. If you wish you’d fostered a family environment, try using some helpful employee engagement strategies to guide them there without trying to force it.

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