The holiday season means it's time to spend more time seeing the family. That's no surprise, as most will spend the end of the year seeing a lot of their relatives...whether they want to or not. For some people family gatherings are a welcome event. For others it means hours of dread and difficulty.

Family relations are notoriously dicey, great for some, horrible for others. Still many companies tout "a family atmosphere" as something desirable. Many CEOs romanticize business as being like a family, even when their own family history leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of creating closeness and unity, pushing a family atmosphere may actually create conflict, misplaced loyalties, and inefficiency. Luckily most companies really aren't families, and that's probably a good thing. Here are multiple reasons.

1. Most families are somewhat dysfunctional.

There are no shortage of family therapists. Love makes people blind to imperfection, which is probably necessary for raising kids, but is the kiss of death in business. Most feel like they owe it to their loved ones to tolerate longstanding arguments, neuroses, and self-centered behavior at the Thanksgiving table. You should never feel compelled to do the same around the conference table.

2. Family members expect unconditional love and unlimited tolerance.

The aunt who always makes snarky comments about your weight, the cousin who inevitably drinks too much and breaks an heirloom, or the teenage kids who ignore everyone to play on their smartphones each expect that you'll let their bad behavior slide. Your tenderness for them will always win out over any annoyance you may feel. Would you really want your employees to act as if the same were true?

3. You can't hire or fire them.

Ok, you can divorce a disagreeable spouse, but a grandma, nephews, and daughters are what they are even when people become estranged. You are stuck with those associations, always. Thankfully, truly mean, nasty, or incompetent workers can be shown the door without lingering guilt or social condemnation.

4. There's always a black sheep.

And some families are perversely proud of that fact, even when the individual is a psychopath or a screw up. If that person wants to show up and ruin all nine nights of Hanukah, someone just lets them right in. At work, security makes sure they don't get past the door.

5. And that embarrassing uncle.

He's the one you pray won't show up if you're introducing a new significant other this year, and who will be the first one to greet that person at the door with an inappropriate hug and commentary. At the office, human resources exists to keep that guy in check.

6. Someone always brings an unsuitable guest.

Not that your friends and lovers would ever make a scene, but siblings and cousins don't share your taste or judgment. The family's still talking about chain smoking rock n' roller boyfriends of decades past, or that sorority sister who passed out in the punch bowl in '09. Family culture just happens, and there's little you can do if a guest can't fit in. Companies can carefully design culture, which means everyone present has agreed to abide by shared rules and values.

7. They act like "boundaries" and "excellence" are dirty words.

God forbid you should fail to praise that dry turkey, or refuse to give the details about your latest doctor visit. You just have to live with mediocrity, rudeness, and meddling when they arise. The only safe response is to slink into a corner with your one sympathetic aunt and sigh together, "Oh, they mean well." In business, there are clear consequences for failure and distraction, and that helps to keep things professional.

8. There's no such thing as healthy competition.

Sibling rivalry, anyone? At work, competing for a promotion, bonus, award, or recognition can spur the whole group to their highest and best efforts. Good management keeps the tone friendly and cooperative. At home, the same behavior just seems to spiral out of control and lands everyone in therapy.

9. In the end, it's all just a bit too familiar.

You know their dirt, and they know yours. Step out of line and someone's always there to remind you that they used to change your diapers. At least at work, you can have the reputation you build for yourself, and nobody needs to know that your mom still calls you "Schmoopy."

Published on: Nov 25, 2016
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