My Co-workers are (not) my family

“It is so nice at your office. You are all like a little family,” said my husband one day, stopping by (like the superhero he is) to drop off the laptop I’d left sitting on the kitchen table.

“Family? You can’t be serious,” I thought. My office is not my home; this is real life, not a television workplace drama, like CSI-Las Vegas, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, or the West Wing, where the strong bonds of the team supersede (or replace) a personal life. But, still, I was intrigued with his observation, and I began to reflect on the ways that my co-workers might look and act like a family. I found some surprising similarities.

Work-Life Balance
I give my company credit for promoting an excellent work-life balance complete with flexible hours, telecommuting options, and ample vacation and sick days. These benefits are family friendly policies, not actual family feeling, but they were created out of a caring and sympathetic spirit.

Scheduled Activities
My co-workers and I don a rather tight-knit social fabric, gathering at bi-annual company parties, book club meetings, soccer games in the park, lunchtime movie discussions, and happy hours. Not everyone participates, but all are invited. This busy calendar of activities brings to mind the family barbeques, graduation parties, and sporting events that filled my childhood.

Shared Values
Also, come to think of it, I share many of the same values with my co-workers. Most of us work at this environmental science-focused, international school because we believe in the mission. My co-workers get seriously jazzed when discussing topics like sustainable solutions, research, experiential learning, and cultural exchange. Do all clans agree on a set of ethics and opinions? No. Your crazy aunt or cousin’s Facebook posts can attest to the wide range of perspectives that can live within one family unit. But most parents try to raise their child with a set of common core values.

Coverage and Support
When a project overwhelms our small staff, or when life necessitates a prolonged absence among our ranks, we have occasionally hired a temp to step in. But, most of the time, we just chip in and cover for one another. In a healthy family dynamic, your kinfolk have your back.

Conflict
There can be uncomfortable tension over budgets, secret confidences, and decisions that are made based on hierarchy rather than reason… all things that happen in normal, average families!

However…
As my wise friend Beth pointed out, the comparison ends there:

“No one in a family gets fired and you can’t “leave” your family for a new one. Even if you choose to never speak to your kin, they tend to remain as a presence and influence in your life. Most importantly, perhaps, no workplace really is a family, because they only have your best interests at heart up to the point that your best interests match their company’s interests. Which is as it should be, cutthroat as it sounds, because the role of business in society is to make a profit and to offer solutions to problems encountered.The role of a family is to love one another and create an environment where people reach their ultimate self-expression. The people at your work can be family-like, but ultimately the actual organization isn’t at all as soon as you cross the line into personal self-interest.”

What do you think?

-Marta

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4 responses to “My Co-workers are (not) my family

  1. I had a conversation recently wherein it was suggested that an employer/employee relationship isn’t all that unlike a marriage, given the natural interdependence of the relationship.
    I work in a camp setting where I live and work with my coworkers: spending that much time together sort of transforms us, whether we like it or not, into a family. Along with that comes the benefits and the disadvantages of being “family”.
    At a regular 9 to 5 job I have found you still become “family”, but in the same way that you become “family” with the other people in your dorm or in your program in college and less like the kids you shared a bunk bed with. Common interests and location foster affection, but an affection that can be easily severed. In the camp jobs I’ve found the bonds to be a little stronger and I have a number people in my life who are like siblings.
    Therefore I think it depends on the setting and circumstances of you job whether or not your work family becomes like “real” family or not.

    • Hi literarybex! Good point – I tend to look at workplace issues from a 9 to 5 perspective.

      I imagine that not only the time spent together, but also the intensity of one’s profession might have an influence on the strength of the bond formed. Do surgeons and firefighters create a more close-knit community that transcends some of the aforementioned limitations of the co-worker as family comparison?

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