October 10, 2003
Is the Employee of My Employer My Friend?
by David Zimmerman
Given the fact that precious little relational activity takes place during sleep (except perhaps the territorial elbow poking and blanket swiping that accompanies bedmate politics—which would be a good topic for some other article), the associations you have during your working hours dominate your relational life. You may live with your kids or your parents or your roommates, but you say goodbye to them after eight hours of sleep and touch base with them for about two hours per diem if you’re lucky. Meanwhile, you work alongside particular people of a particular setting in a predictable pattern much more than that, and you’re supposed to be awake for pretty much all of it. And yet, workplace relationships are often our most superficial.
I can sympathize with the fear of deep friendships at work. Office hierarchy may get in the way of authentic friendship, such that employers might even be tempted to lay off employees just to get some quality time with them. Some jobs are transient—we work while we shop for a better offer. Some workplaces are politically volatile—coworkers wait for you to say the wrong thing, then pounce and feed on your failure. Some working environments are even sexually charged—fast-paced collaborations turn into intense emotional attachments, or coworkers use power as flirtation or flirtation as power.
No one appears more two-dimensional than a coworker. We have our jobs to do, our agendas to pursue, and if our coworkers are not for us, they are against us. End of discussion. But presume for a moment that your coworkers are fully formed human beings with histories and destinies, created by a personal God, infused with life by a personal Holy Spirit, suffered and died for by a personal Savior. Suddenly the coworkers seem more important than the work.
Obviously the work remains, and you shouldn’t expect a big bonus at the end of the year if you can name every coworker’s favorite color but can’t name a single task you’ve completed. Still, a place and occupation that occupies so much of our lives ought to be a place that nourishes our spirits and channels our calling as a royal priesthood. That, ultimately, is our real job, and we all report to the same boss.