I left a job a few months ago. Said goodbye to Travis. Worked with him a ton of hours. Enjoyed our conversations and collaborative thinking. Then one day I resigned. Showed up for my last day and moved on to a new opportunity. Haven’t seen him since. May never again.
A few years before that I left Jonathan and several other co-workers. Exited the office one day and never looked back. Wonder what they’re doing. Probably will never find out.
Many of them may not be there anymore. No one’s keeping track of any of us nor are we of each other. Everybody keeps leaving, seeking greener pastures. We say goodbye and good luck or say nothing. And then the relationship evaporates.
This has been my cyclical work pattern dating all the way back to my first job out of college when I worked for a boss named Mark. He told me I wasn’t performing well. He’s not the first boss to tell me that and probably won’t be the last.
I walked out one day feeling pushed out. Haven’t spoken with him since. Don’t want to. “Hey, Mark, remember 37 years ago when you told me I was going a poor job for you?” Who wants to relive that conversation?
I don’t know where Mark is and don’t care. He and I have completely lost track and I’m sure he’s at least as content with that as I am. If I was deceased, Mark wouldn’t know and I’m sure would sleep fine tonight.
In other jobs, I’ve had close working relationships with Doug, Steve, Mike, Vicki, Sue, Gary, Alex, Kathy, Bill, Ray, Sam, Derek, Debra, Bob, and Martin. I would list more than 100 names of people I’ve worked with in my career who after I left the business have never seen again. Where are they?
You have these same experiences and misgivings about these people you no longer hear from?
I remember one guy, in particular, Nathan. It was his last day and we had become friends. Went to lunch together often. Talked about things. Really started to understand him. A good friend.
On his last day in the office parking lot, I told him I would stay in touch. Intended to but didn’t. He didn’t stay in touch with me either, and I understand. He had his life to worry about. We were “work friends” but not real friends. So no need to invest too much. Time is precious. Only so many friends can be in our lives. Nathan didn’t make my cut nor did I make his.
I had another work friend. We went to lunch together several times. Got hot dogs at a sidewalk stand. Really hit it off with the guy. We saw our office situation the same way. Laughed a lot. One day I came to work and he wasn’t there. No one would tell me what happened to him. The company didn’t want to get sued. Companies love protecting themselves.
I found out later he had serious health issues. Reached out to him, but not as aggressively as I should have. We’ve completely lost touch. I feel bad I haven’t been a better friend to him. I think we all feel this about some of our work friends.
I’m not proud of any of this. I could have made the effort to stay connected with many of these people. But the truth is when I have taken new jobs I have been preoccupied with performing well in those new jobs and developing relationships with my new co-workers.
Selfish, yes. But I think it’s the way of the world, not just me being unusually self-involved. Work makes us selfish because work makes us money and money buys us food and food keeps us alive.
There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to call up, email, and meet for dinner or whatever with previous co-workers. Many of us, myself included, just move on with our lives. When a person leaves a company, they’re gone. No matter how close you may have become with that person when they leave your relationship ends.
This is one of the most dehumanizing parts of life. It’s sad. All that time spent with a person then…gone.
Relationships with co-workers are too often different, superficial, and tenuous. It’s emotionally flattening and doesn’t motivate any of us to invest a whole lot in these people we work with because we know any day they could announce they’re leaving the company. It happens constantly, especially in this era of The Great Resignation.
People resign. People get hired. And around and around we go, the merry-go-round of transient and small-talk and just getting the work done, grinding it out, to make a buck, to stay alive.
Friendships get deprioritized.
Maybe this is as it should be. Maybe we don’t need to be close friends or even moderately close friends with people at work. We all understand this routine.
We don’t bother pouring our hearts out to anyone because we know it’s probably not going to amount to much once one of us leaves, which inevitability happens.
So we pay to talk to a therapist or the wall or to ourselves in bed about what’s on our minds and in our souls. Or we watch TV or eat a bowl of ice cream worried about pleasing the boss tomorrow so we keep getting paid. That’s our priority.
Something’s screwed up about this.
It’s because of these fractured relationships that so many of us don’t feel great fulfillment in our jobs. Yes, we enjoy our work and have some good moments. But these are temporary, transactional relationships.
The problem with this is that meaningful interactions are exactly what people want and need. They need to share how they feel, confide in friends, grow to trust them, and develop stronger bonds. We want lasting relationships.
So what’s the point of all this?
I have one point.
Let’s all take one simple step. Contact someone today you used to work with and just let them know you’re thinking about them. Maybe send them a nice note on LinkedIn saying “I enjoyed working with you and I just wanted you to know that.”
I believe your friend will feel uplifted hearing from you, knowing your previous working relationship meant something and that the bond between the two of you lives on.
You can still be friends, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy a laugh together. We all need more of that to look forward to.