Deodorant. There is a fine line between co-worker and friend. Some people ride the line easily and without issue. Others were taught that ne’er the two shall meet. I am FIRMLY in camp one.
One of my favorite mottos is Life Happens at Work. And my life has happened at work. If I am going to work as hard as I do and for as many hours, life is going to happen during the hours that overlap with my job. Work is where I met some of my closest friends, where I am going to share my authentic self, where I have had medical diagnoses delivered, where I met my kids’ dad, where I have been honored to share news from co-workers about their life’s milestones. Those milestones include celebrations, but also tragedy, heartache, and strife.
I have always erred on the side of becoming closer with co-workers, vendors and clients, fully believing that those close bonds make the work more rewarding and builds a collaborative environment that transcends the work itself.
While I can honor and respect those who fully separate their work and their home lives, the lines for me remain blurred. And I believe I gain so much from creating those strong bonds. When we care about each other on a personal level, my asks are for me as a person, not as ‘the boss’. I find that it is easier to ask because we have a relationship based on mutual respect and partnership. We have built up equity between us. The strong bonds fall into the easy give and take between people who genuinely care about each other.
My choice to forge these friendships is not always easy. I have had to fire friends who were as close as family (heck, I fired a cousin who was interning for my company and not meeting expectations). I have given tough feedback when the work was not aligned to the role, and met up later the same day for a social event. I have attended funerals and Shivas, held space for grieving mothers experiencing pregnancy loss, helped strategize care giving challenges and life changes. Personal moments that I was honored to be ask to share in. Celebratory milestones and life’s everyday moments. And I am a hugger (pre and post Covid) which can also be disarming to some. (I do always ask first.)
Here are some of the funnier moments where my co-workers were much more than just people I worked with:
My brother married my direct report. I asked a woman that worked with me to go out on a pity date with my brother. They fell in love and have been married 18+ years.
I may have had a few too many. A co-worker made sure I got safely to my hotel room and then watched pay per view movies on my hotel bill while I slept it off.
He forgot to pack socks. A direct report called me frantically one morning on a business trip telling me (“the boss”) he hadn’t packed socks and asked if I would run out and buy some.
I dropped him at his vasectomy appointment. A co-worker and I attended a funeral that ran later than expected. The only way to make his appointment was if I dropped him on the way.
My boss broke my ribs. At a work celebration, a twirl around the dance floor ended up with him falling on me and two broken ribs.
These may have crossed the line. Or maybe not. I look at each of these stories and think about the long history of hard work: successes and challenges, not just the personal connections. For each personal anecdote, there is a long list of client wins, business deals, happy customers. We did the work, but we also were enriched by our relationships and authentically ourselves.
Oh, and the deodorant? Thanks to my client who graciously stopped on her way to our offsite when I forgot to pack my own. Our friendship allowed me to make the ask.