You spend 30 to 40 hours per week with colleagues at your workplace. You also may carpool with them, eat at least one meal per day with them, and socialize with them after work and perhaps on weekends. It’s easy to think of your coworkers as a “work family,” and, similar to your actual family, there are competitions, slights, disagreements, and disappointments, as well as loyalty, support, encouragement, and concern.
In addition, there is comfort in the status quo, with routine and predictability. In the workplace, this translates into knowing how things work and what to expect from team members or your boss. So what happens if you change your position, or your job, or find yourself caught in a downsizing layoff?
A promotion, even one you wanted and worked for, can be difficult to manage. It may require shifting loyalties to a new boss or team. You may need to be more discerning about what information you exchange with colleagues. Then, there may be the awkwardness of supervising or evaluating people you are used to socializing with and consider to be friends.
Even if you decide to find and accept a new position, leaving your comfortable work family may still feel challenging. Similar to graduating from college or first relocating to a new town or state, the excitement of personal growth and forward movement can be tinged with uncertainty and nostalgia. You know some of your previous workplace friendships may survive the change, but many won’t.
Harder still is if your position is part of a downsizing effort or if you are laid off for some reason. Even if you understand the financial considerations and decision, you may feel abandoned by colleagues and hurt that your boss or employer didn’t support you and didn’t see the value you brought to the company or agency. Without the day-to-day interactions, it can be difficult to maintain personal relationships, and you may quickly begin to feel like an outsider. This can compound feelings of loss and anger.
Given the certainty of change occurring during your career—you will change positions and jobs numerous times—it is important to keep the idea of “work family” in perspective. First of all, don’t let the comfort of a work family hold you back from professional advancement. Recognize the importance of maintaining friendships outside of work , and engage in activities that are unrelated to work. And, perhaps most importantly, remember that work families are a temporary structure—a result of circumstance or convenience. Don’t let your work family overshadow the importance of your actual family.