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Do you use the "F" word at work?

The “F” word at work.

Yep, family.

Family for some is a beautiful word, for others, it is a word they prefer not to hear (or visit). No matter how you say it, whispering in case you run into one of them at the store, or out loud at your child’s birthday party, it’s a word that should only be used to describe your personal life. At work, the word and concept of, should not be used.

The” F” word at work will promote toxicity, create communication issues, and burn bridges left and right with employees. If HR brethren could turn back the hands of time, we would change this horrible concept and use another term instead to describe our company culture. So many words come to mind now, of course, camaraderie brigade, The A-team, Barbie and Ken’s dreamworld, really anything other than the word “Family”.

When first made popular, the intention was clear, companies used those phrases to differentiate themselves by telling you they really cared about their employees. Intentions being mostly pure of heart, this simple term used in the wrong environment has caused enormous problems.

Family bonds are meant to last forever, so why not use them at work?

Don’t you want to be surrounded by all your co-workers forever?

Just think of it, growing old together listening to Henry's music he wrote himself,

or seeing Melanie’s 12 pictures of her cats that cover her cubicle. Life might be unimaginable without your manager's passive-aggressive emails and odd stares via Zoom. Great co-workers are gift in life. You actually like Henry's music and covet the 5 minutes you get a day hearing the silly stories about Melanie's cats, but forever is a really long time.

Reasons to never use the “F” word at work again.

Everyone does not come from the Brady Bunch

Let’s go for the obvious here and get it out of the way. The word family does not elicit magical Disney-type feelings for everyone. Some parents and siblings evoke memories of narcissism, and dread, while only bringing back thoughts of tears and vacations you should have skipped.


What are you going to do when one of your “family members” fails?

Most people fail at work. A project goes awry, the clients complain, or they miss that key decimal point on the spreadsheet, it happens. Who is truly capable of firing a family member? You fired Cousin Meredith years ago, and all your other cousins are still holding a grudge (a.k.a. your tech support team). What if you had fired a team member that was not contributing to the team as they should to meet everyone's mutual goal?


Family members very rarely have healthy boundaries that are necessary at work.

Let's start off with a basic example, such as hugging. It's normal and encouraged to hug your parents as a sign of affection. Behaviors that indicate affection should not be demonstrated at work. Healthy communication boundaries are key to any successful company. Interpreting constructive criticism of your work as personal creates insecurities and plants seeds that others are trying to undermine you rather than move the needle forward.


Referring to your employees or co-workers as a family implies that trust is built in already, not earned.

Trust at work should be earned, with time and a solid track record of expected work behaviors that keep your company flowing in a positive manner. Unhealthy work boundaries can create weak leadership as information that should be held confidential is shared, even if innocently so. Co-workers are also less likely to share if a co-worker is engaging in behavior in which they should not be.


Consider why using the word “team” to describe your environment and company culture may be a great way to move forward.

-People in their roles are meant to be temporary. They might work for your company for 12 months or 12 years but moving on at some point is typically beneficial for both parties involved. The outside experience that new employees bring helps companies thrive.

-There are fewer power dynamics created if it’s a team mentality. If driven by the word “family”, the employer is the parent, and the employees are the children. What do children do when in trouble? They hide the evidence and push the guilt down which has an impact on them in the long term.

-Teams have the same goal, and winning benefits everyone.

Here are some tips to get rid of the “family dynamic” at work.

  • Avoid using words like family, tribe, unconditional, work husband/wife

  • Be proactive in avoiding personal reenactments of behavior (as siblings typically do)

  • Discuss and illustrate what it means to your company to be a unified team. This might include best ways to communicate sensitive information and how to do a performance review without crossing over into their personal space and feelings.

  • Treat everyone fairly, and equally.

More than ever, employees are focusing on finding a company culture that is healthy in every way. Switching to a team mentality can be done with ease and grace. If you are unsure of how to drive a new culture forward, reach out to us for help! Fill the Gap HR will quickly dive in to examine your current culture and help move you forward for better retention and performance. Better employee performance will flow all the way through your company to your clients.

-We are not your mom's HR, Fill the Gap HR

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