Some thoughts on co-workers as family

Years ago, when I had just graduated college and had been hired into my first real, adult, full-time job — as an editorial assistant for a travel publication called Signature, gone for lo these many years — my father took me aside and gave me this advice (not in these precise words, but this is the gist):

“When you start a job, somebody there — your boss, the personnel director — will tell you that the company is one big family, and that you’re now a part of that family. They may be very nice people, and say that with all the good will in the world, but it’s important that you don’t believe them. Because unless you’re married to the owner’s son, you’re not family.  And no matter how hard you work, how much time and effort and good will you give them, if they need to — for reasons that have nothing to do with you — they will get rid of you.”

Sounds a bit dire, doesn’t it? Not really. My father was an extremely astute man, and that advice has been a balm to my ego whenever I hit a bump in my career — I knew I had done my best, and while I deeply regretted the loss of the job, I didn’t waste time blaming myself. But he was not completely correct, either.

Because while he was right that corporate executives are wrong when they describe the company as family, he was not right when it came to the way the employees of some companies deal with each other. While there are organizations in which there seems to be a general sense of every person for themselves and screw everyone else (see: Uber), there are others where you have a group of people who sincerely like each other and the work they do.

What happens then? Then you have people who are more likely to enjoy starting work each morning and pushing to do the best they can. You have people who are truly dedicated to their work, not just because they are getting a salary, and not just because they want to get a raise and/or a new title, but also because by doing their job well, they make things easier for their friends who are working with them. They are more likely to collaborate well, come up with good ideas and carry out useful projects, and adjust to the changing demands that invariably come down from upper management.

They are more likely to stay in place, because they like and value the people they work with. And they are more likely to mourn when one or several of their members leave.

As with families, as the years go by, people will go their separate ways, make new friends, attach themselves to other families, and even lose track of those they were once close to. But the memories will always be there, and there will always be those times when two people meet and one says, “Hey, do you remember so-and-so? Did you know she moved to Washington and is now working for XYZ Corp?” “Omigawd!” says the other. “We haven’t talked for ages! Do you have her email address? I’ve got to get back in touch!”

And that’s what family does.

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