• Michael Melendrez

Is Having a "Work Family" Healthy?

The concept of a "work family" has been on my mind lately. For years, I've heard people say that their work friends are like a second family to them. I liked the idea. After all, I've been to countless happy hours and work dinners with clients and coworkers, and it definitely didn’t feel like “mandatory fun.”



Still, with recent emphasis on having a healthy work-life balance, I had to ask myself - is having a work family healthy?


What Is a Work Family?


Work family describes the relationships and bonds that form in the workplace, usually between coworkers. It is often used positively to describe how coworkers can get to know and care for each other in a way that resembles a family dynamic.


Bonding with Your Coworkers Comes Naturally to Some but Not All


Maybe it's because I'm extroverted, and I like getting to know people I work with! Over the years, coworkers and clients have genuinely become my friends and, in some ways, like a second family to me. Heck, photos of my wedding prove that tons of my work family were in attendance!


In many ways, the concept of a work family simply labels something that already comes naturally to me - getting to know and care about the people I spend time with. For that reason, seeing work family culture come under scrutiny didn't resonate with me.


However, when I put more thought into it, I started to understand why the idea isn't for everyone or every workplace.


Where You Work Makes All the Difference


Over two decades ago, I left my corporate America job to join the startup world because I wanted to be a part of something different. For the last 21 years, I have been working in and helping others build "startups," and I can't help but quote the Cubs by saying: "It's different here."


One of those differences is the importance of team building and the culture that can be formed when you bring a strong group of people together and point them toward a common goal.

When I was in the corporate world, I felt stuck with the culture I was given and had to put up with its imperfections.


But when I joined the startup world, I realized that we have the opportunity to shape our culture and build our workplace into something we love and care about by bringing our shared values to the table.


When I was a part of a fantastic team, I realized it could become a work family!


What a Healthy Work Family Culture Is and Is Not


While I have personally reaped the benefits of having a work family, it's important to acknowledge that some workplaces have abused the idea. When the concept of a work family is used to manipulate or take advantage of workers, it’s just plain wrong.


Knowing what to look out for can help you avoid company cultures that are missing the mark.


A good work family culture IS:


  • Trusting and relying on one another

  • Feelings of unity, support, and respect

  • Giving and receiving honest feedback

  • Having fun together

  • Supporting each other's professional and personal endeavors

  • Respecting each other's boundaries in and out of the workplace



A good work family culture IS NOT:


  • A replacement for your real family

  • An excuse for bad behavior or treatment like:

  • overworking

  • unreasonable demands

  • sub-standard pay

  • poor work conditions

  • Something that should take away from time with your real family


How Can I Create a “Work Family” at My Company?


If you take the time to build a team based on an aligned set of values, chances are better, you'll end up with a group that is not only successful but also likes each other. It's one of the reasons I encourage founders to hire for culture fit alongside skills. It can make a big difference if building a work family is important to you.


When you build a team that is not in alignment, you could end up with a dysfunctional workplace culture. Dysfunctional teams, like families, can be challenging to deal with and cause you heartache in the long run.


It's worth it to take the time to find people who share your values and can be trusted to support you on your career journey. It is the foundation upon which you can build a robust and lasting relationship.


My Take: A Healthy “Work Family” Could Be the Key to Real Work-Life Balance!


In my opinion, a healthy work family is something to aspire to! If your work family is healthy, everyone works together toward the same goals, including work-life balance.


When your work family embraces work-life balance as a shared value, you can support each other in making that a reality. For example, a healthy work family understands and looks out for each other when a team member needs support to deal with a family matter.


Let's face it, when your workplace is positive and supportive, you can bring that good energy home with you when you spend time with your family.


Still, the idea of a workplace family won't resonate with everyone. Some people prefer not to form more personalized relationships in the workplace, and that's OK. Above all, a healthy workplace culture and work family respect people's boundaries.