Transcript: Is Calling Your Team Your “Family” Harming Your Company?

March 14, 2023

AMY PORTERFIELD: “This idea of never disconnecting as a family, it can create a culture of never wanting to let one another down, so you work longer hours to get the work done or deliver something—I've seen it on my team time and time again—or you feel that you have to respond immediately to a work-related message from a coworker or manager or a boss, even if it's outside of your work hours.”  

INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-seven-figure business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, the budget, and the time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and a life you love, you're in the right place, friend. Let's get started. 

AMY: I've got a podcast recommendation for you, I mean beyond Online Marketing Made Easy. If you love this podcast, you're going to love the podcast by Scott D. Clary. It's called Success Story, and it's brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network and features Q&A sessions with successful business leaders and keynote presentations and conversations on sales and marketing and business and startups and entrepreneurship, all the stuff we love, right? And you can hear episodes like “Unleashing Your True Potential: A Practical Guide to Boosting Self-worth and Wealth through Authenticity” and another episode, “How to do Content Marketing Properly.” So listen to your Success Story wherever you get your podcasts. 

Hey, there. Welcome back to Online Marketing Made Easy 

I wanted to check in on you today. How are you feeling? What are you working on? What's happening? Are you managing your mindset? Are you making sure that you're very aware not to believe everything you think? And are you really paying attention to your thoughts, making sure that they serve you? I think that's something that no matter what's happening in my life, that's what I have to do every single day. Sometimes when my mind is really going to negative places, it's, like, every hour I'm checking in. So if you ever have to deal with that, if you have a mind that likes to go to the negative or worries a lot or is anxious, one, you're not alone; and two, you can definitely, definitely manage that by pouring into different books and podcasts and maybe coaching, maybe therapy to really help you manage that area. I say this to say there's resources out there. You're not alone. It doesn't have to be that way all the time. And I am living proof of that. So I don't know who needed to hear that today, but just know you're not alone. And maybe it's time to seek out some resources just to get a little extra help because you don't have to do it all on your own.  

All right, my friends. Let's get into today's episode.  

I shared an episode in late December 2021 that for the upcoming year, I wanted to enhance the things that went well for me in 2022. That's what I had said in that episode. And one of those things has been a really strong team, meaning I just want to build on the strong team that I've already created.  

My team has been on my mind a lot lately, probably because at this time that I'm recording this episode, I'm launching a book, and so I am stretched really thin, and my focus has been shifted to interviews and media stuff and launching and all the stuff around the book. So I feel as though my team has been running this business in many ways, and I'm so grateful for them.  

I mean, I really do have a very strong team, and that hasn't always been the case in my business. And I know that there are seasons where people quit, which wasn't too long ago, and then we come together, and we kind of build what we need. And right now I feel like we're really strong. But I know there will be other times where I'm like, “Ooh, this feels a little bit rocky. We need to kind of come back and figure out what's going on.” So I can appreciate when my team feels intact and really strong because I've known both ways. 

Now, at the same time, as I'm thinking about my team and loving up on them and so appreciative of them, I'm aware of this conversation that's been a big part of company culture, and that conversation is around the fact that your team is not your family. Your team is not your family. Now, I'll be the first to admit that many, many times I have called my team my family, my work family, because I love the idea of us feeling so close to one another, having each other's backs, and celebrating one another outside of work. For example, we make a big deal out of new babies, new homes, engagements, marriages, moving, things like that. And that really lights me up because I love when we celebrate each other.  

But the truth of the matter is that family, for some, may be a sensitive term. And on top of that, having this family mentality may put—here's what's really important—it may put unnecessary expectations on your employees to be involved in one another's lives on an intimate level. And quite frankly, it goes the other way. Some people really don't want their coworkers knowing personal details of their life. They want to keep them separate. And there's no problem with that as well. So it's something that I really had to think about.  

Another thing that we can't deny is that a family never disconnects from one another. Truly. Sure, they may go for a little while without talking for one reason or another, but there's always this connection on some level. With employees, that shouldn't be the case. And when it is, you run the risk of employees never feeling like they can disconnect.  

So I moved to a four-day workweek about two years ago so that my team and I can have work-life harmony so that we can really enjoy our personal lives and not get in Slack, not talk to each other through Asana, nor text each other work stuff, that we can really enjoy our lives on Friday and Saturday and Sunday. And so when we're together Monday through Thursday, it's intense. We work really hard, and we've got a lot of work to get done in four days. But I planned a schedule so my team can disconnect.  

So when I continue to say, “My team is my family. My team is my family,” the lines of disconnecting get very blurry for me and, I'm sure, for them. This idea of never disconnecting as a family, it can create a culture of never wanting to let one another down, so you work longer hours to get the work done or deliver something—I've seen it on my team time and time again—or you feel that you have to respond immediately to a work-related message from a coworker or manager or a boss, even if it's outside of your work hours. 

I've got to put a pause right here and just call myself out. I am really guilty of sending messages after hours. And actually, I've gotten way better. So if you, like, want to wag your finger at me and be like, “Amy, that's terrible,” just know I've worked on it, and I've gotten way better.  

But when you're—I want to just talk to the owners of companies right now. When you're the owner of your small business, it is your baby. You think of it morning, noon, and night. You're not like, “I'm not going to think of my business right now, because it's 6:30 on a Thursday night, so I'm off.” Like, let's be realistic. That does not happen in our heads. And so if I'm thinking of something, I want to reach out to a team member, like, right away. I'm very impatient like that. Like, I don't want to forget, or it's almost like I want to get the monkey off my back and give it to someone else, which is terrible, I know. Believe me. I've done work on this. So I think, like, I don't want to worry about it, because I'm a natural worrier, so I want to, like, tell somebody else so that they could just take it, and I'm reassured they've got it.  

So in the past, I would send messages later than I would like, or anyone else would like. And in my mind—I'm totally serious about this—I would think, “Well, it’s okay if they get back to me tomorrow. It's fine. I just want to make sure I get the monkey off my back. I tell them I don't want to forget, and then they can respond tomorrow.” I'm the boss of the company; they're not going to respond tomorrow. They're going to see a message from me, I'm going to interrupt their evening, they're going to feel responsible for getting back with me, and 99.9 percent of the time they did.  

So now I really try to pause and think, “Okay, what can you do to not send this message right now?” And there's this feature now in Slack—it hasn't always been there, so it's newer-ish—where you can send a message in Slack at, let's say I do it at nighttime, and I schedule it to appear the next morning. So it kind of disappears. And then it appears for them, whatever time I choose, like 9:00 a.m. the next morning. So this is something that I have gotten more in the habit of doing, and I think it's respect. I need to have respect for my team members.  

Now, I am not perfect at this, and sometimes emergencies come up, and I'm just like, “No, I got to send the text,” or “I got to get on the phone with someone. We have an issue,” a shopping cart is down during a promo, whatever. But I really have been practicing the power of the pause, thinking, “What can I do so that I don't interrupt someone's evening?”  

So anyway, that kind of gets back to this topic of you're not a family. I'm not sitting at their kitchen table, eating dinner with them. And so I need to make sure that I'm creating a culture that doesn't make people feel like they're always on. 

Now, there's this article in the Harvard Business Review. It's called “The Toxic Effects of Branding Your Workplace as a ‘Family,’” which I'll link to in the show notes so you can take a look because it shares some really valid points. They talk about how calling your team a family can create a space where it's harder to set boundaries and have candid conversations, and it can lead to burnout.  

It can also make parting ways more difficult, something I've experienced firsthand. This is both from a place of having to fire someone. After all, families don't fire one another, right? So this mentality can certainly make this task much more difficult. And then, secondly, when someone decides it's time to leave a company, whether that can be because they've outgrown it or a million and one other personal reasons, they may feel guilty or stay longer than they should because they don't want to let down their work family or endanger those close relationships.  

And if you know me, you know who I am referring to in my business, right? If you’ve followed along for years, you know I'm talking about Chloe, who I call Cho. But she was my former CMO. She was with me for seven years. I did a whole episode, where I started crying, talking about her.  

And the level of codependency within my business with Chloe was incredibly unhealthy. We've both talked about it. And codependency really means that, in our case, we felt we couldn't make a decision or do anything in the business without talking to the other first and hashing out the ideas and checking in with the other's emotions. How are you feeling? Are you okay? Are you mad at me? And I can only speak for me and not Chloe—I'm going to guess she might have felt a lot of this. I mean, we've talked about it—but I know that I was always concerned, are you okay? Are you too stressed? Am I putting too much on you? And then every idea I wanted to run by her. And so it got to the point that it wasn't just a sounding board; it was codependent.  

And let me tell you, when she left, oh, my gosh, one of the hardest things I've dealt with in my business. I felt like personally she was leaving me, which that is so unhealthy, right? And I'm sure other people felt the weirdness between us or the closeness between us, which created weirdness when she decided to leave. And there was just so much that came up.  

If I had been better at creating a more-healthy work relationship with Chloe, then I don't think it would have been as hard for me or for her when she left. I'm sure she stayed longer than she wanted to because she loved me. Really. I really do believe that.  

And also, we're really good friends. I mean, I was in her freaking wedding. Like, she's a best friend of mine. So that's another thing. I wouldn't trade that friendship for the world. So if we had to go through that, we had to go through that. But I also know that work wise, it's really hard. 

So something else that Harvard Business Review suggests that I really love is shifting your mentality from a place of “We're all in this together,” to “We're all working on a similar purpose.” It's very different. “We're all in this together” versus “We're all working on a similar purpose.” So you can still foster a closeness around a common goal or purpose, but you can create a level of separation that creates a healthy work community.  

As an employer to over twenty employees, I have to be honest with myself, and even though I love the idea of being a family—I actually love it. When I first saw the headline, I was like, “This is trash. No. We're a family. I love every single one of them and care deeply about every single one of them. We're family.” But then I read the article, and I thought, “Oh, I might need to examine what that does to my team and what kind of culture it creates.” And to be honest, I do think it creates unnecessary expectations on my employees to have to act like family, which makes it hard to separate work and business. That's the thing. It's hard to separate work and business when I create a culture of family. 

Now, I also feel like, since COVID, there was a real recalibration of what's most important, and people started to realize that work is not the end all, be all. And I have to recognize that. I talk a lot about that. With my book, Two Weeks Notice, I talk about this recalibration and why people want to quit their jobs to start their own thing because they want more out of life. They don't want just to work their life away, so they want to call the shots so that they can create a life they love.  

So this recalibration, I have to look at my own business through that lens as well, because for me, my business is my life because I own the business. It's not more important than Hobie, Cade, or Scout. But it is right there, like, a second [unclear 15:46]; pushed right up against everything else that means the most to me. I cannot lie about that. Some of you think that's terrible. I cannot separate those two completely. So, meaning my personal life and my business life, I'm the owner.  

Gary Vaynerchuk said this, “No one is going to care as much as you do as the owner, and do not expect them to care that much.” When I heard that, I was like, “Ooh, that one hit me. No one is going to care as much as you do as the owner, and do not expect them to care that much.”  

And I'll be honest. I've been blessed with many employees who do treat my business as their own. Chloe was one of them, which is why we got so close so fast. She literally acted as though this were her own business, without all the benefits that I got, which says a lot, right? And there's some other people in my business now that I see that in them. I try not to make it a big deal. Like, I would tell Chloe all the time, “I appreciate you treating my business as your own,” but now I don't do that to other employees, because I think it put an expectation on her or a pressure.  

So as I contemplate on this and really—you know, my Tuesday episodes, every Tuesday I do a Shorty episode; Thursday, they're longer, usually interviews or whatnot. But every Tuesday, I usually talk about something I'm either grappling with or working through or have worked through personally in the business. I tend to take you behind the scenes on these episodes. I don't do interviews on Tuesdays.  

And I am contemplating all of this. And to be honest with you, I had to start to wonder, how can I make my company feel inclusive and foster a closeness. I want a lot of love in my company, but also, I want to set boundaries, without making people feel as though they have to eat, breathe, and live this company that I've created. I think this is something that my team and I will probably be working on for a while, and I do feel like I can create a balance, where we celebrate one another's personal and professional lives, but always respect and recognize that everyone has a personal life outside of work that isn't our business.  

And one thing that I think I can work on is really focusing on what the Harvard Business Review shared, and that was to shift the focus from “We’re in this together” to—or “We're all in this together,” to “We're working towards the same goal or same purpose or whatever that might be.” I really love that because it gives people the discretion to navigate it how they see fit in the workplace. So I really do love that ability to create more-healthy company culture. 

All right. So I hope you love this Shorty episode. I can't wait to see you on Thursday. And if you don't have a team, I hope you still love this episode, to say, “Okay, these are some things I'm going to ponder as I start to grow my team.” And those of you with a team, you might totally disagree with me. Get in my DMs. I'm @amyporterfield on Instagram. Let me know if you have a very different view of your team is your family. You're not thinking otherwise. This article is crap, whatever it might be. I'd love to know the flipside of this if you have it, or if you love something about this, come share with me in the DMs. So again, it's just @amyporterfield on Instagram.  

All right, my sweet friends. Thanks for tuning in, and I'll talk to you again soon. Bye for now. 

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