Can the company you work for also be your family? A lot of young people seemed to believe the answer is yes. But that illusion is starting to crack. 

A recent article in The New York Times describes how Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, likes to throw around the word “Ohana” — a Hawaiian word that, according to the company’s website, “represents the idea that families — blood-related, adopted or intentional — are bound together, and that family members are responsible for one another.”

But then, as the Times noted, “last month Salesforce said it would lay off 10% of its staff, a decision that seemed to go against Mr. Benioff’s repeated declarations that the company was one big family.”

Benioff defends himself by noting that Salesforce is still a business and his severance policy includes five months’ salary. Not bad. But what does it mean for your “family members” to have a severance at all? 

Others are also making the mistake of believing that the typical company has a long-term stake in your and your family’s well-being. The way that companies are rewarding people for going to the gym and hiring therapists to talk to them about difficult events suggests that they care. And maybe individual bosses do, and to be sure, some companies are more family like than other. But in encouraging wellness, many companies are just hoping employees will be more productive.

Another recent Times article describes other tech employees being laid off, even while they are out on parental leave:

“Employees across tech have felt that their companies engaged in a bait and switch, after selling not just a job but a lifestyle, with child care, mental health support and plentiful paid time off. For new parents, generous leave was part of the draw.

“As one worker who was on paternity leave said, “It’s like an earthquake. … It’s the weight of ‘What am I going to bring him up with? How is his first year going to go? How are you going to make ends meet?’”

Related
Perspective: Parents want more time with their kids. We should find ways to help them
Perspective: When helping families with young children, don’t leave out stay-at-home parents

These are the kinds of questions that many white-collar workers began to ask in the 1970s and ’80s when it became clear that the company they had come to depend on for decades— such as IBM or General Electric —was no longer going to be their safety net. 

Even though companies have been offering very generous benefits during this historic labor shortage, that doesn’t mean they no longer have a bottom line to worry about.

In an era when we are having fewer children, and never marrying or even living with a partner has become more acceptable, people are turning to other aspects of their lives to find meaning and connection. And there is plenty of evidence to find that they can. Work —no matter what kind — can bring a sense of purpose to people’s lives. Whether you are a manager at Burger King or a professor at a major university, regular interaction with other people can bring life satisfaction. 

In their recent book “The Good Life,” authors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz describe how developing relationships at work can provide meaning and greater happiness. “We rarely get to choose our coworkers. But while that might seem like a downside of work, it also creates new opportunities for people who may never have the opportunity to meet outside of work to forge unique relationships and a type of understanding that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

People like to joke about their “work wives” and “work husbands,” but those relationships can bring a sense of comfort and even joy to otherwise mundane days. 

Despite the labor shortage, we know there is an underemployment crisis in America. Millions of people — men in particular — are struggling to find purpose in modern-day America. But the purpose that work brings is not just the making of widgets or the production of academic research; it’s also supporting your family. Whatever you do during the day, you can earn a paycheck that will help others — your spouse and your children — to live the life you dream of for them. 

Saying that your company is not your family is not to demean the importance of work in life. The purpose we find from the actual work, the satisfaction in the relationships we form at work, and the ability to earn a living and support the people we care about are all deeply important to human flourishing. But we also must recognize that our parents and children and siblings and cousins and friends are the ones who will always be there for us. Companies are temporary. Family is forever.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives,” among other books.