“Great companies aren’t fake families — they’re allies of real families.” 

Jason Fried

There’s a certain irony in the way companies love to toss around the term “family.” It’s as if they’ve taken the word, given it a nice corporate spin, and wrapped it up in a PowerPoint presentation to convince you that spending your weekends answering emails is somehow akin to a Thanksgiving dinner with your loved ones. But let’s be real: no amount of catered lunches or team-building exercises can replace the sheer chaos and unconditional love of a real family.

In the realm of corporate euphemisms, “we’re a family” stands out as the granddaddy of them all. It’s the kind of thing that sounds heartwarming until you realize it’s code for “We expect you to sacrifice your personal life on the altar of our quarterly goals.” It’s the equivalent of your boss saying, “Sure, you can take a vacation…as long as you’re available for calls.” Because, you know, family.

In my own professional ventures, this notion is something I actively push against. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in a radical concept: people should have lives outside of work. Crazy, right? I have always been adamant that my team doesn’t dial-in during vacations, skip Sunday dinners to prep for Monday meetings, or become nocturnal creatures, prowling through spreadsheets in the dead of night.

Because here’s the thing: work is important. Work is essential. But work is not family. Family is bigger than all that.

A great company understands this distinction. Instead of demanding total sacrifice, it respects boundaries. It’s not about coddling employees or handing out participation trophies—it’s about recognizing that happy, well-rested people are more creative, more productive, and frankly, more fun to be around. When you don’t feel like you’re constantly fighting a battle on two fronts — work and personal life — you can actually bring your best self to both arenas.

Now, I’m not saying that work shouldn’t be rewarding or that you shouldn’t give it your all. On the contrary, there’s a profound satisfaction in doing your job well and contributing to something bigger than yourself. But this should never come at the expense of your real family, the one that doesn’t hand out performance reviews or expect you to be reachable 24/7.

Real families are the ones who understand the value of downtime, the joy of unstructured moments, and the importance of simply being there.

So, next time you hear that well-worn phrase, “We’re a family,” remember that great companies aren’t fake families — they’re allies of real families. They’re the ones that get it, the ones that support you in being not just a great employee, but a whole person. Because in the end, the best work comes from people who have the space to live fully, love deeply, and yes, even take a weekend off now and then.

And let’s be honest, no one ever looked back on their life and thought, “I wish I’d spent more time in conference calls.”

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.