Your Company Isn’t Your Family

TL;DR – Read the title 🙂

The HBR Your Company Is Not a Family written by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh  has better prose than what follows here.  If I had found it earlier I wouldn’t have bothered writing this post.

In the last few months I have chatted with a number of young folks who just got laid off from their first job. When joining “their” company they were told “We are a family”. The company provided meals, social activities, and many other services. Then they received a text informing them they were no longer employed and all their access was revoke. They were shocked and dismayed. I wasn’t  surprised, nor were any of the people who had experienced a business boom / bust cycle.

Second TL;DR

  • Companies are more like professional sports teams than a family. Companies look out for the good of the company. Employees are resources used to achieve objectives. If someone isn’t helping they are expendable.
  • No company offers long term security or lifetime employment. Select a job because it’s a good match now and has at least a year of “runway”.
  • Family (at least good ones) sticks by you through thick and thin. They always have you back. Everything is faced as a family. No one suffers alone. Cherish your family and give it first priority. Don’t sacrifice your family for work.


There was a titanic shift in business that started in the 1970s. Shareholder / investor returns became a primary (sometimes the only) lens that companies were evaluated by. Loyalty to employees wasn’t important. Care for the customer was variable. Companies that were profitable but not delivering excellent returns on their stock would would often do layoffs, close divisions, reorganize to eliminate redundancies,  close sites, etc to improve their financial metrics. Loyalty to employees no longer mattered.

People lost jobs not because they weren’t performing, but because the company wanted to cut costs. Being a “company man” with an implicit employment for life disappeared. Companies embraced the “all will” employment. It was during this era that the book “What Color is my Parachute” was released. Executives often got “golden parachutes” while the scores of people laid off were given nothing.

To be fair, there were some notable exceptions. During a tough recession that hit high tech hard, HP leadership slashed their own comp, asked whoever could afford it, to take a voluntary furlough. Everyone else took a 10% salary cut with a 10% reduction of workdays referred to as “Nine-Day Fortnight”.  Quite different from HP’s announcement in 2022 that they would be laying off 6000 people when the previous quarter posted a 7% profit margin from a $14B revenue stream.

Choosing a “Safe” Company?

When I first entered the working world there was still the illusion that working for a “big company” was safer than working for a small company. Most of us had seem small companies close, but the big companies always seemed to have resources to weather unexpected financial storms.  was not interested in join start-up or small companies. I wanted a large stable company where I would have a reliable paycheck and could “pay my dues” and grow my career.  The cracks in this narrative started in the 1970s, and by the 1990s, you would need to be ignorant to believe working for a large company was safe.

By the 1990s it was clear to me that I shouldn’t expect that “paying my dues” would result in any loyalty from my companies, nor that performing my duties well would guarantee continued employment. This led me to change how I evaluated work opportunities.  My evaluation became:

  1. Would my work promote human flourishing? Would my “customers” have better lives takes to my companies work. Was I going to be leaving our world in better shape than how I found it?
  2. Is this a position that I am uniquely qualified to take? Do I either have the skills and experience required to succeed or the time to develop that experience? Will my strengths be utilized?
  3. Will I be joining a good team. I want to be working with people who will help me grow and learn. I definitely want people who are smarter and better than I am so I can learn from others.
  4. Do I believe that companies finances has at least 1 year, ideally 2 years of runway. I can get up to speed and make a meaningful contribution in 1 year.  2 years is enough time to master a specific role and be ready for something new.
  5. Is my comp enough for me to maintain my current lifestyle.

A few things that were not criteria

  1. Am I going to make a lot of money / is this going to be an IPO hit?  It’s silly for me to think I can pick a company that will have this sort of success. VCs have access to more information that I do as a prospective employee, and more leverage to make a company succeed and pick winners maybe 1 of out 10 times. It’s unlikely I can pick a winner
  2. Is this a promotion… better title, more salary?  Money isn’t everything. So long as they pay me enough to have the lifestyle I am currently living. Titles aren’t as important as the body of work produced and the relationships that get build when doing excellent work with colleagues.
  3. Is this a company that I can work for until I retire?  The world is changing so quickly… there is no guarantee that large companies that were in the fortune 100 will still be relevant, if even exist in 50 years.

Prioritizing Family

As noted in commands for life hospice nurses never hear people say “I wish I would have worked more”.  They hear people say “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” so they would have had more time with the people they love and care about.

Make sure you are spending your time on things that will be valuable throughout your life.

I will note that there are some seasons of life when work might take time away from family. For example, a critical crunch time where for a week or two you need to put in extra hours to hit a deadline that actually matters. This is not the same as an extended, chronic crunch which is properly called a death march that does no one any good.

People who are starting a new venture will likely require  taking time and some focus away from family. What’s important is to determine the length of time this will be permitted. Come to an agreement with your family and/or partners about what this duration will be. Set a “checkpoint” date. At the time review how things are going. Do you need to make a change? 

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