Over the last couple of weeks a lot of the bloggers I read seem to have written about issues related to people in their workplace. Maybe it’s because we’re all back from summer vacation and in the full swing of work again that there is a renewed focus on work frustrations.
Work relationships are funny. Because we’re grown-ups, (for the most part) and because we know that we’re going to have to work 8 hours a day with a certain group of people for maybe years and years and years, somewhere deep within our sub/unconscious we decide that we are going to get along with these people.
I think it’s some sort of modern-day survival instinct that allows us to shut off our usual like/dislike radar when we’re at work. Because you can’t afford to let your personal feelings get too engaged in your work relationships. You can’t afford to feud with someone you are forced to sit next to day in and day out. And you really can’t afford to get too intimate with someone you are forced to sit next to day in and day out either.
So, humans have evolved a peculiar compartment in their psyche especially for work relationships. All the usual stuff that attracts you to or repels you from people is muted and you adopt a generic work face. So now you can work together in relative harmony; laugh at stuff together none of you would laugh at outside of work; bitch endlessly about stuff about which you couldn’t give a crap once you’re away from the office.
And it works. Yes, some people will always irritate you and there are people you enjoy working with more than others, but you have no real emotional life invested in any of these relationships. It’s nice so we can complain about our families and friends at work and gripe about people at work to our friends and families knowing the two will never meet – at least not in any sustained, bonding kind of way.
But we do get to know our work-mates pretty well within a certain context. We probably spend more waking time with them than we do with anyone else. We can often talk to workmates about stuff we can’t talk to anyone else about – stuff we don’t often get such a captive audience for. They get to hear all the minutae of our lives – how the commute was, what we had for breakfast, how the kids pissed us off that morning, the crazy thing the spouse did, how your pantyhose is binding, why your head is aching more this afternoon than it was this morning, what should you make for supper?
We share meals with workmates, celebrate holidays and special occasions with them, drink with them (occasionally…rarely, really…ha), travel with them if work demands it, laugh with them, cry with them, etc., etc. – but for all that they really only occupy a very small, and often superficial place in our heads. Because if we get laid off or retire or get promoted or move on to a new job or new town, we’re gone from their lives.
We take a lot of things into consideration when thinking about a new job, but the people we work with are usually far from the top of that list. We can’t afford to let them be any more important. Yes, we’re sad not to be working with them anymore and we keep in touch, furiously – for the first few weeks. And then we move on. And 99% of the time, we never see or hear from them again. At least that’s been my experience.
I find the whole human work relationship adaptation thing strange, don’t you?