You’re Not My Family: Establishing Work-Life Integration

Your coworkers are not your family.

I don’t care if you love them.

It doesn’t matter if you hate them.

If you’ve been there for five minutes or five years – they are not your family.

You might already be feeling this – or fighting it. Hear me out: your family, whether it is chosen or blood, is your actual family. You will forgive faster, put up with more, overlook things – starting to see why I’m adamantly against calling coworkers family? Here’s a story:

I was working at a very well known institution, and my boss called us all “family” – something felt really weird and off about it, but so is my relationship with my blood family, so it’s fine. Only work got weirder, and I couldn’t write it off as “Oh, that’s just how mom is” – my boss would demand we work over 40 hours because “We’re all in this together!” and throw crying fits when we pushed back because “You’re just trying to get me in trouble.” Worse, when someone wanted to spend more time with their actual family, specifically their partner? “You were such a better worker before you two were together.”

Yikes, right?

I hope you’re not in a situation like this – this is pretty seriously toxic if we have to place it on a spectrum. That being said, I’ve heard glimmers of my story in others’ work lives. Best case scenario? You’ve called your coworkers your family, or been called family by coworkers, and some discomfort. Worst case? You’re excusing bad behavior with the family label – or participating in unprofessional behavior yourself.

How can you pull back if you are in the uncomfortable zone of a work “family” and start the path to work-life integration – because we all know it’s never a perfect balance? Here are three ways to start:

Pull Back – Literally

If you’re in a weird situation with a work family, you have to take some action to get out of it. By setting work hours for yourself – both when you’re at work and when you’re accessible by email or phone (text included!), you’re setting a boundary. And remember, boundaries don’t always feel good; they are meant to keep you safe.

If you can’t help yourself and need to email in off-hours, try keeping the emails in your draft until the morning, or schedule them to go out during work hours. Or, better yet, don’t check your email or respond to work texts when you aren’t working.

Arm’s Length

The family feel is often backed up when you’re too open at work. Yes, your job can know about your new pup, a cool upcoming vacation or even a fun restaurant you found. No, your job doesn’t need to know the intimate details of your life outside of work. By opening up in a way that some might deem as “oversharing,” you’re opening yourself up to a closeness that might lead to that family feel.

If someone else is sharing a lot more than you’d like to be part of, finding a way to politely leave the conversation is usually a good hint to your coworker. Once I was at a different job and my boss would tell me details about her relationship – all the time. I found myself leaving every conversation with an “I have a lot of work to do, and I don’t want to get behind!” She eventually got the point.

Have a Conversation

If she hadn’t gotten the point? An assertive conversation would have happened. This one is hard for a lot of people, especially when you’re moving from a “family-like” workplace to one that is focused on work. It might even feel a bit like a breakup, and that’s ok. Being transparent, not placing blame, and being clear and concise are your best bets for an assertive conversation.

Good luck, and remember, your family is your family – and your coworkers are just that. Coworkers.



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