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Reblogged:Jargon Alert: We're Like a Family = We'll Use You.

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Writing at Slate, Alison Green informs her readers that "The five little words [We're like a family here] should send you running from any job."

Green cites several examples of people writing to her about dysfunctional workplaces whose management described them this way, and why it is a red flag:
What they want you to think of is very different from what they actually have in mind. (Image by Jessica Rockowitz, via Unsplash, license.)
Almost invariably when workplaces claim to be "like a family," they're using the phrase to mean that they expect employees to show the same sort of patience, commitment, and loyalty (and sometimes guilt!) that we generally associate with families. But they're certainly not offering the benefits people normally expect from their families in return, like love, emotional support, and a financial safety net (nor should they, in most business arrangements).

A much better model for employment is that it's a team -- a group of people working together toward a common goal, with the understanding that either party can leave the arrangement if they determine it's no longer in their best interests. Dysfunctional employers don't like that framing, because it underscores that employees are independent agents who can and should prioritize their own needs, but it's a far more accurate one. It's also healthier, since workers should advocate for themselves, expect to be paid fairly, and feel free to move on without guilt.
Green is absolutely right about this, and even quotes a letter from someone whose dysfunctional family life helped him catch on quicker to his dysfunctional workplace than he otherwise might have.

This reminded me a little bit of a part of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, in which a company ran itself into the ground by adopting an explicitly altruist-collectivist work and compensation arrangement, after its management misused the term "family" to describe it ahead of a vote.

A former employee describes the hellish conditions that resulted in part:
"We're all one big family, they told us, we're all in this together. But you don't all stand working an acetylene torch ten hours a day -- together, and you don't all get a bellyache -- together. What's whose ability and which of whose needs comes first? When it's all one pot, you can't let any man decide what his own needs are, can you? If you did, he might claim that he needs a yacht -- and if his feelings is all you have to go by, he might prove it, too. Why not? If it's not right for me to own a car until I've worked myself into a hospital ward, earning a car for every loafer and every naked savage on earth -- why can't he demand a yacht from me, too, if I still have the ability not to have collapsed? No? He can't? Then why can he demand that I go without cream for my coffee until he's replastered his living room? ... Oh well ... Well, anyway, it was decided that nobody had the right to judge his own need or ability. We voted on it. Yes, ma'am, we voted on it in a public meeting twice a year. How else could it be done? Do you care to think what would happen at such a meeting? It took us just one meeting to discover that we had become beggars -- rotten, whining, sniveling beggars, all of us, because no man could claim his pay as his rightful earning, he had no rights and no earnings, his work didn't belong to him, it belonged to 'the family,' and they owed him nothing in return, and the only claim he had on them was his 'need' -- so he had to beg in public for relief from his needs, like any lousy moocher, listing all his troubles and miseries, down to his patched drawers and his wife's head colds, hoping that 'the family' would throw him the alms. He had to claim miseries, because it's miseries, not work, that had become the coin of the realm -- so it turned into a contest among six thousand panhandlers, each claiming that his need was worse than his brother's. How else could it be done? Do you care to guess what happened, what sort of men kept quiet, feeling shame, and what sort got away with the jackpot? (pp. 610-611)
This might sound over the top compared to Green's examples -- Well, maybe not the one from the guy who left a job because he developed health problems -- but it has happened politically many times, as countries have adopted socialism or communism because it is allegedly "humane" or more "like a family," the latter based on the all-too-common confusion of altruism with the benevolence or kindness that, say, a parent should show a child.

Perhaps family is almost always a red flag in our current culture.

-- CAV

P.S. The theocratic right is, if anything, even more guilty about misusing the term. Family values is code in that quarter for enforcing Christian morality via government force.

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