September 19, 2019

I Wouldn't Fire My Mom..

I just did an exercise that had me laying out what I loved, liked, and hated about my work over my last three jobs, followed by highlighting the commonalities and trends I saw in my answers.  My biggest takeaway theme was about the work itself; clearly, I am passionate about what I do and the ability to build it from scratch. An equally important theme, as it turns out, was about the people I worked with throughout the years. 

Building a variety of companies from small startups through their hypergrowth stage over the years has had me partnering with some truly inspirational, incredibly impressive people.  Though they all shared different skills, levels and backgrounds, there is commonality with their intelligence, passion, energy, and an “all in” commitment to the mission that leaves me feeling like this is truly my tribe. Over the years, these people I’ve been in the trenches with has resulted in deep friendships, high performing partnerships, and even opportunity to work in multiple companies together.  And yet, I’ll stop short of calling them my “work family.” 

In today’s business community, it’s quite common to find companies and teams indexing high on creating environments aimed at making people feel welcome and appreciated and collaborative.  In other words, there is often an active attempt to make colleagues embrace each other as “family.” While I believe the intention is a great one, I actually think this is potentially damaging. Why?

While I’m often not shy to point out a differing point of view, I realize that not everyone is likely to share this perspective. And yet I’ll share it anyway. I believe there is a distinct place in our lives for both the amazing people we work with; and also a place for our real families. While I certainly don’t believe that it’s that black and white - as in, work is where the place you contribute and leave, and home is the only place you can be your true authentic self, for example, I do believe when you blur the lines too much between the two, we muddy the playing field a little.  Consider this:

1.  I’m not going to fire my mom.  The reality is, sometimes companies need to part ways with their people.  Whether the individual in question is terminated, or they opt to move on of their own accord, co-workers can often feel this as a form of abandonment or betrayal personally or to the team.

Conversely, even though she drove me completely nuts, I would never fire my mom. When my brother elected to move across the country, my parents retired to Florida, or my daughter just left for college, there was ample discussion about how to stay close as a family, and what our new ways of engaging would look like. We were still a family, even though the dynamic had changed. Unlike a family, there is a business reality that people come and go, even in the strongest of teams. When we are close to people at work, sometimes we aren’t aware of the performance challenges they might be struggling with. Or perhaps they have career aspirations that aren’t available to them at their current company. When people leave a company, it’s not abandonment from their family; it’s someone moving on to the next phase of their work journey. And if we are lucky, some of those incredible people we worked with along the way we just might get the opportunity to work with again in the future. 

2.  Blurry lines. We often spend more physical time with the people we work with than our own actual families.  Of course, when you are working intently on a problem, or teaming together over time, strong relationships can form. This can intensify when you as further those relationships outside of the office with deeper friendships and social time together. However, we go home. Our partners, our children, our pets; hopefully those are the relationships that sustain us through the long term. While work is set up to be a point in time in your life, your family are those people who love you unconditionally and support your life well past just the work elements. It’s critical to our mental well being to be able to walk away from our work and teammates, and connect with people that have nothing to do with it. Obviously, these relationships can intersect at some points. However, I’ve seen (and lived through) so many personal relationships being so intertwined with work relationships, we risk becoming one dimensional. Having a life and people outside of our work lives is just plain healthier.  

3.  But my work people “get me.” I have certainly struggled with the notion that those people I spend so many hours a day with people you respect, learn from, and share a common goal together. Working within a healthy, thriving company is a wonderful gift we all strive for. And yet, we all need to step outside the boundaries of work to gain a fresh perspective, broader our minds, and spend time with the people who truly love us. Of course, sharing a common set of values and goals allows relationships to deepen and trust to build. However, no project in the world should draw us away from investing just as much in the relationships we have outside of work. Having those people outside of work - our long term friends and family - allowing us to be vulnerable, open, loving and supportive in a way we would normally never do as work is a necessary balance for us all.

At work, if we are fortunate enough to find it, we can share values, commitment, and teaming with a group of people who can become incredibly meaningful to us.  When this team provides an environment that provides safety to push boundaries and shared experiences, deep relationships can form. This is an incredible benefit to a job.  Sometimes, we may feel closer to these people than we do to our own families, and that’s totally understandable. And yet, it’s business. These people will come and go from our lives, and hoping to enrich them along the way.  However, we can never lose sight of the importance of caring for those people in our lives who are there permanently. These are the people who will support us long term in helping us build the lives we want, and support the passions we want to pursue.  

Strong work relationships can never replace our true families, and in my humble opinion, they never should.  And yet, that does not diminish the power of the close ties and powerful relationships we might build with our colleagues along the journey.  In a perfect world, we’d all benefit from both.  

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.