Michele (my wife) was relating a great discussion she was having with a dear friend recently. Our kids are all school age now, so potentially heading back to work comes up. As they were chatting about their priorities, it became clear that both of them cared a lot more about the culture and environment than anything else.
Michele has always called this “looking for her people.”
I think this is a really important thing to consider as you weigh career alternatives, job changes and other transitions. Much of my writing encourages you to figure out what you want and put in place a process to work towards it. I worry sometimes that it comes off as a little too linear or goal oriented, that you could assume I only value easily quantified goals like earnings or promotion. Au contraire. (I like to sneak in some high school French)
This is a perfect example of when values can differ radically. And that’s OK. You need to figure out what YOU want, based on your own definition of happiness and success.
A major chunk of our lives is spent at work or thinking about work. Who we spend that time with and whether we really connect with them as friends plays a major role in shaping our own success and happiness. So it makes a lot of sense to at least consider and in some cases make a decision based on the extent to which you “click” with the people you meet in an interview process. I might call this “culture” or “fit” when speaking about a formal recruiting process, but whatever…it’s all the same thing. “Are these my people?”
According to Tom Rath, author of New York Times bestseller Vital Friends and Gallup executive, you are MUCH more likely to be productive if you work where you feel you have friends. The opposite is true as well.
A few of the clear benefits of friendship in the workplace (from my perspective) include:
- Excitement (or at least some pleasure) at the prospect of going in to work every day. If you genuinely like everyone, it feels a lot less like “work”. It’s a lot easier for me when I’m looking forward to my meetings rather than dreading them.
- Emotional support. When stuff happens, whether it’s personal or professional, if you have deep support from one or more good friends at work it makes it a lot easier to have resilience. (Trust me; I can speak to this at length.) No one is an island (at least not successfully).
- Shared mission/goals. It’s not always the case, but in general groups that are committed to each other are often better aligned for success. Isn’t it fun to win as a team? For me it’s way better to share in that common success.
- Shared understanding. I don’t care how fabulous your spouse or best friend outside of work is, they don’t fully understand your situation at work. Those you work with do and can provide more specific advice, counsel and empathy on work issues.
So, it’s all sunshine and hugs if we have a deep and healthy social network at work? Maybe, maybe not. It can create challenges. Here are a few issues I’ve run into.
- “Agency issues”. As in, “I’m in management” and have to either conceal information or otherwise not share with friends. There are reasons it’s easier to be friends with peers that bosses or subordinates. It can get awkward if you or a friend are promoted. The result can be a potential gulf of understanding.
- Managing relationships. Having tough discussions at work can be made tougher when your friendships are in play, beyond the immediate work issue. Did you do the best thing for the business, or for your friend?
- Soap operas. If your friendships extend too deeply at work, it can become a distraction. Who’s dating who and other kinds of personal conversations can suck time better spent on productive work if not managed.
- Digging deep roots. If you and your family’s social ties are predominantly through work, then you are actually running a career and social risk in my opinion. If the need to leave comes up, you are giving up an entire network not just a job. Similarly, if you get laid off, the loss of status in that network can be difficult for you and your family. I’ve seen it go both ways. So don’t overly rely on a workplace network. Have other strong sets of social ties as well.
So what to do? As I get older, I’m placing a higher value on the “my people?” question Michele poses. It’s one of several important criteria, many of which we all share – but probably weight differently (compensation, satisfaction, subject matter, time demands, culture etc.)
I’ve seen everyone from my most recent undergraduate recruits to more senior people changing roles be surprised by how much this ends up mattering to them. For the younger, I attribute it to following career scripts and not always factoring in “soft” factors.
For more senior folks it’s often a result of having been in a particular culture for a long time and assuming that’s what it’s like everywhere. Only when you make a change do you realize how good or bad you had it culturally.
I encourage you to think hard about what really makes you happy as you consider where you are and where you’re going. What has driven your joys and frustrations? Friendship or culture isn’t the only important factor, but maybe give it a little more thought. See if you can find your people.