"We're a family here": Setting boundaries and identifying red flags at a new company.May 19, 2022
It’s Monday evening, you’re scrolling through job postings and you see an interesting title at a company you haven’t heard of yet. You want to learn more to see if this could be the next stage in your career.
You begin reading the “Who You Are” section. Words like guru, rockstar, wizard, and ninja are thrown at you as the company details the “perfect” person to fill the position.
When you carry on to the “Who We Are” section, the company boasts about their close-knit teams and fast-paced environment. It has a strong “work hard, play hard” philosophy. After work, employees can be found enjoying that time off with each other. It is a passionate workplace. Everyone at the company lives and breathes its mission.
The company is like a family.
You click Apply.
Six months into the job, you realize why this was a mistake.
Companies, as progressive and welcoming as they can be, should never be treated like family. Here’s why:
Your professional life bleeds into your personal life
Have you heard of companies that provide employees with breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What about offices with gym spaces? Some companies have even embraced napping spaces to sleep on company time.
While these work features can boost morale, help productivity, and make employees feel more comfortable at work, they also keep you at work longer.
The more you stay at work, the less time you are recovering at home – no matter how well you are being treated. Even if you’re not punching numbers and attending meetings while you’re onsite, you are still “on” and away from your home life.
No matter how many bonuses there are to staying at the office or logging onto your work computer at home, your company is the place where you go to produce work and get paid. It is important to leave the relaxing, recharging, and personal relationships to your home life.
You may form an inappropriate attachment to the company
It is important to be committed to your company. It is important to align with its vision and mission. It’s important to care.
But when you see your company as a family, it makes your colleagues and managers as friends, siblings, and parental figures. The attachment and loyalty reserved for friends and family who love you should not be connected to a company who values you for the work you produce.
And that’s just it. Your relationships to your company should be transactional. They hired you to perform a job and reach certain outcomes. You signed a contract to be compensated for what you produce.
You can run into trouble when you consider your team as people you are loyal to beyond your contract.
This doesn’t mean you can’t excel at work to get promotions and raises. But it does mean you shouldn’t feel guilty for choosing not to burn the midnight oil or ignoring work messages outside business hours.
The family company culture can lead to you making commitments you would otherwise decline. Suddenly, you’re not just saying no to a teammate or a boss. You’re saying no to a mentor, a close confidant, a family member you just don’t want to disappoint.
Saying no isn’t easy. How could you possibly sleep at night letting your work family down?
“If I don’t do this task, who will?”
Suddenly, work becomes a lot more personal and a lot more complicated.
This can lead to companies taking advantage of you, whether it is a conscious decision or not.
So – how do you create professional boundaries when professionalism looks different at each company?
Ask about work culture
If the company you are interested in working with describes themselves as a family in their job ads but you want to continue your career with them, you need to do some research to see what work is like in real time.
Scrolling through LinkedIn, you are bound to find people who work for the company you are interested in. If you are lucky, they may post specifically about their jobs – what they appreciate and maybe even things they wish could change.
If someone is posting about how much they love the support from their team lead or if they are experiencing burnout, you can pick up signals about how healthy their relationship to work is.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people on LinkedIn to ask about their job satisfaction. If their work culture celebrates working overtime because of their commitment to the company, it is something you should consider before you take the time to apply for the job.
If you have already made it to the interview stage, use your questions at the end of the interview to ask about more about the work culture and team environment. Try questions like:
- What are the company values?
- How would you describe the company’s culture?
- How would you describe the work environment?
- What is the company’s management style like?
- How does the company contribute to employees’ work-life balance?
- How frequently do employees work overtime?
- What kind of events do employees attend outside of work hours?
Make clear boundaries
Whether you are joining a family work culture team or you are already on one, you have to set up boundaries because your team and managers won’t do it for you.
Start by knowing the scope of your work and the hours you are expected to work in a day. From there, you can filter extra tasks through the filter of, “is this really my responsibility” or “does this have to be done immediately?”
Next, express those boundaries. It may be tempting to take a step back from the daily hustle of the job and hope that people don’t notice you are not chiming in on every email thread, Slack message, or daily huddle.
Instead, share with your team and managers about what you’re capable of doing, when you can do it, and then deliver your work on time and up to standard. Your company cannot get mad at you for simply doing your job.
Working at a healthy and team-oriented company is great. Working at a company masquerading as a family is not.
Make sure you know the difference.