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Urban Families and why you need one at work

We call them an ‘Urban Family’ – 6 to 10 people who are 200% there for you and you 200% there for them – and we strongly suggest you get one at work.

No one is quite sure where the expression came from.

Was it as we watched ‘Friends’ and wished to heaven that we had a gang like that, or was it some seriously important academic buried way past page 4 of the Wiki search (that’s where I always give up).

But it doesn’t matter, we know what it means. Or more importantly, we know how it ‘feels’ to be surrounded by one.

The last few weeks, we’ve been working a lot on wellbeing at work – coming up to 10 October, which is, as you know, World Mental Health Day, and then into October, which has now become ‘Mental Health Awareness Month’, and hopefully by next year it will be “Mental Health Matters All Year Round’ Year.

At the same time, I was invited to be ‘peer reviewer’ on a really interesting piece of research on trust, culture, and belonging and the impact all three have on whether or not we’re up for sharing information with our colleagues or not*.

What is an Urban Family?

6 to 8 awesome human beings who are there firmly parked in your corner. Who have your back.

Know you. All of you. Not just the good bits.

Like you (or are we allowed to say ‘love you’ in a business blog?).

There for you. Always. Anytime.

Need you to be there for them, at the most inappropriate times, and you always are.

And the ‘Work Urban Family’ also knows your world. The work you do. The tough parts of your job. The confidential parts. The mean boss who undermines everyone. The great boss you all love. The customer that you want to adopt and the customer you use as a resilience test.

What does an Urban Family look like up close and at its best?  

Easy. We’ve seen them in workshops we’ve been running across the country for the last two months. It looks like a whole room full of people running (literally!) towards each other and hugging and even crying.

In the middle of one particular workshop we say – “The next bit is going to get real. Go and sit with the people in this room who are your urban family. That are ALWAYS there for you. That you’d ask for help anytime. That you know would ask you for help. And that you’d always always always be there for”. Before we finish the instruction, they’re off and running. Arms open. Seeking those people who just moments before were studiously taking notes and being all professional, and are now crying and hugging them. Showing just what ten years of ‘being a good colleague’ really looks like. The highs, the lows, the battle scars, the shared moments of joy – all wrapped up in hugs and happy tears.

What do they feel like?

Warm. A relief.

Like an island when the water is deep, cold and whipped up by wicked winds.

When your home life is all messed up, they’re the place you go to think about something else. Do something else. Talk about something else.

Or tell your version of the home story, when everyone else’s version is not doing you and your pain justice just now.

What do they do?


Drink coffee.

Walk in the park at lunchtime.

Wrap their arms around you – physically or metaphorically, depending on your preference – and let you breathe out.

Read your face, even when it’s sitting behind a whole bunch of words that say ‘you’re fine and don’t need anyone or anything’.

Kick you in the arse, when you need it most.

Ask if they can help. and when you say ‘yes’ they help.

Keep your job safe, when left to your own devices, you’d drop the ball and put it at risk.

And most importantly, they rely on you to do the same.

They count on you and know you’ll be there. They EXPECT that of you and never doubt for a second that you’ll do it.

Why do they matter?

Because life is messy and not perfect, and neither is work.

And when life is messy – either ‘small m messy’ or ‘BIG M messy’ – you’re going to need, that coffee/walk/hug/person in your corner.

We all do.

How do I get one?

Another easy question.

Step 1 – Be one for others. Be there. Give yourself permission to care about those dudes and dudettes you spend all working week with. They’re worthy. Hear their stories. Be kind. Smile. Hug. Be there.

Step 2 – Let people in. Share your love of Dolly Parton or Green Day, and be open to their love of Taylor Swift or Hozier. Be open to letting other people care about you. You’re worthy. Give yourself permission.


What’s it got to do with mwah.?

We’ve built mwah. as an Urban Family, and an Urban Extended Family out to our clients.

We genuinely care about each other and about the people we work with as clients, customers and community. We laugh together. We cry together.

As you read this, we’re on a boat, sailing around Sydney Harbour – with our team and some of our Table of Ten (Our Board, in normal biz language) – the people we’ve held tight to when they needed us most, and have been there for us. We call it a mwah. Team Day, but it’s really just a Day to laugh and have fun and thank the heavens that we have a very special Urban Family.

We’re asked all the time about “how do you make work absolutely human?”, and this is the simplest answer of all. This is where it starts.

Be Human.


Then care more deeply.

Be there for each other.

Until you wake up one day, and it feels like family. A good one.


PS *About that academic article. It proved a whole bunch of hypotheses we’ve had a while. Don’t want to be a spoiler – and we’ll on-publish (it’s a thing) the whole article when the academic journal has published it in the near future – but the bottom line is we share more information, collaborate more openly, and do better work together, when we feel like we’re trusted, like we’re important and like we belong.