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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, Leaders

Leaders: Your Co-Workers Are Not Your Family


Each week, an unknown number of news related updates smack my email and social media sites. While I can’t read all of them, I try to review as many as I can. One posts that resonated with me this week came via Vox Technologies:  LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman on the Biggest Lies Employers Tell Employees.

With eyebrows raised, I am wondering if this is real fodder or a bait-and-switch catchy subject heading with dribble for content. As it turns out, the post is a review for Hoffman’s new book: The Alliance, however, it does provides some sage advice about the written and unwritten employer-employee agreements. Oh by the way (OBTW), Hoffman is co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn.

First, Hoffman openly admits and argues that the relationship between employers and employees is built on a dishonest conversation. “I think I will read a little more,” I tell myself.

While I am inclined to agree with Reid Hoffman, I must wave the cautionary red flag over two words: some and all (see Diversity & Inclusion: Some vs All and Us vs Them). Given my personal work experiences with various employers, I do agree that there are too many dishonest conversations that occur in the workplace every day. Behind many dishonest conversations is a circle of discomfort that prevents the discussion of some critical topics.

According to Hoffman, “the biggest lie that employers tell employees is that the employment relationship is like family.” Over the years, I’ve heard employers refer to their organizations as a family. Some of my co-workers have referred to the workplace as a family. My confession: No place that I have ever worked ever felt like a family to me, however, I will say that some provided a much better work experience and a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

Whether or not the environment in which you work feels like a family to you and your co-workers is all relative to your base of experience, knowledge of organizational behavior, and the financial picture for this quarter or year.   However, unless you work for a family-owned business, your co-workers are not your family.

Hoffman does acknowledge that some managers may actually believe that the workplace is family. During my time with a utility, one of my co-workers often referred to the company, or at least the department in which we worked, as family. She also acknowledged that this organization was the only one that she had worked in since receiving her mechanical engineering degree and had no other experiences to make a solid comparison.

Similar comments were provided by co-workers in a government agency and a private employer. Their general sense of family evolved around the idea that the workplace is more than buildings and walls. They want to believe that most of the people who work there are good people and help each other. They also want to believe that there is someone looking out for them, someone who is going to let them know if any problems might be coming down the pipeline, and someone who will speak on their behalf if they need them to.

The real test of  that family feeling will come not in good times but when the economy takes a dive, there are changes in top management in the company or your business unit, or when sales/income does not meet the financial projections. “You don’t fire your kid because of bad grades”, states Hoffman.

However, Hoffman argues that deception creeps in when the employer promotes family in exchange for employee loyalty. Hmmmm…..while I have yet to have this family experience that some speak of, I am happy to report that I have formed solid relationships with one or more persons in each organization that I have worked in, and consider these individuals to be more like family members than just co-workers. Some of these relationships are still in-place today.

Truthfully, the employer-employee agreement is a business contract. Hoffman, argues that the worker and the employer need to begin having honest conversations with each other. “Conversations that admit that employment isn’t for life, that loyalty only lasts as long as if coincides with self-interests, and that the relationship does not have to end when the worker leaves.” Imagine that!

Here’s to the improving work place!


  1. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman on the biggest lie employers tell employees, by Ezra Kelin for Vox Technologies, last updated, May 22, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/5/22/8639717/reid-hoffman-the-alliance , last viewed on 06.05.2015

[Personal Note: If you like what you read here, consider leaving a comment and following my blog: A Bridge for Business & STEM, like me on LinkedIn, and follow me on Twitter @vibrowntweets.]


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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