You, the Company and Everything Else

At least try to keep your enemies honest…

Back in late March someone shared a post from Life Hacker called, “The Company You Work For Is Not Your Friend“.

Now, besides this being abysmally obvious to most of the people who read this blog I think a more interesting question is this: If the company isn’t your friend then what is it?

Or perhaps, better expressed, what should you perceive the company in most cases as opposed to what they publicly say?

First, what makes someone your friend?

Maybe it’s the philosopher in me but I always like to start from the bottom and work my way up. In this case, what defines friendship and what does it mean for a company to not fit such a criteria?

When I think of friendship one of the first things that comes to mind is trust. You’d trust a friend (even a non-close sort) to some degree more than the average person. Just as trust is important in romantic relationships it’s also important in almost any relationship. Without trust, both participants are constantly second-guessing their own actions and that of the other person’s. In such a scenario there can be little peace involved for anyone and more often than not these relations don’t end well.

Friendship also means dependability. If you’ve got a friend and you’re in a tight spot that it’s reasonable to think your friend can help with, then if they’re a good friend they’d probably help you out. Whether it’s needing a ride to the airport or giving some feedback on that latest blog post you made. Being able to rely on the other person in your friendship is often key to making things work out.

So as not to be too long-winded I’ll finish off this (certainly non-exhaustive list) by saying that friendship often entails some level of self-sacrifice. I don’t mean to sound cynical but on some level every relationship is going to involve subverting your values to make the other person happier or more acquiescent to doing the same for you. Now, that should be minimized as much as possible and a friendship that is based around self-sacrifice probably isn’t healthy or likely to last long. Regardless, all relationships (including friendships) involve some levels of compromise or sometimes even bending over backwards if the situation calls for it.

So trust, dependability and self-sacrifice. How does the company stand up?

According to the article, not well:

More often than not, HR is responsible for personnel paperwork, benefits, payroll, and—assuming your company cares—employee training and morale. They make sure everyone can focus on work, that pay is competitive enough to attract talent, and that the distractions of employee relationships, bad managers, and other issues go away. Quickly. They will always serve the needs and interests of the company, whether that matches up with your interests or not.

…try to resolve your differences and issues independently, before asking someone else to get involved. It may be harder, and sometimes not worth it, but learning how to be assertive and handle office issues yourself will serve you well for every subsequent problem that crops up or job you ever have.

Even if you have to take your hunt undercover, research other companies you’d like to work for. Set up interviews and informal coffee talks with people who work there.

Most new jobs also come with a probationary period. Even if you think everything went well, all it takes is a round of budget cuts to your department or a boss that’s tough to please and you’re back on the market.

Hunting for jobs undercover? Having probationary periods? Having places first off called Human Resources but then having such a department looked to for dispute resolution but ultimately be unreliable?

All of this should be pretty easy to decipher. Friends don’t have “probationary periods” with each other (at least not officially) where if even one minor thing or big thing goes wrong you’re immediately likely to stop being friends. Friendship is often about taking ones time and realizing that whoever your friends with is a human just like you and that they are going to make mistakes sometimes.

Sure, that sometimes happens within the boss/employee relationship but to a much more constrained degree. Partially this is because the profit motive involved makes things a lot less necessary for it to be about personalities and more about supposedly rational or economic cuts (even if the basis for those cuts is a system that is very irrational). And in your typical friendship there doesn’t seem to be anything like the profit motive in strict economic turns. I’m not saying profit is good or its bad really, just pointing out that it affects the sort of dynamics that happen between people.

Needing to go undercover just to make sure you even have some semblance of “job security” (which, as the article points out is largely malarkey anyhow) in case your current one goes through is on its face ridiculous. But it also shows an astounding lack of trust going in both directions. You can’t really trust your employer to keep you long-term and they can’t trust you to stay there long-turn. A lot of the reasons for both sides again depend on the economy or people’s lifestyles or whatever.

Now, I don’t know if having trust either way is a better approach. Indeed, it may make more sense within a given company to just be distrustful of the authority figures and hope for the best. As the article suggests you are the best ally for yourself and furthermore I think like it behooves us all to act like that.

There’s also another point that I saw that I wanted to briefly highlight:

For many of us though, we quickly learn—either through layoffs, bad bosses, or how they handle disputes—that the companies we work for aren’t looking out for us. We learn the double standard of giving two weeks notice when we quit, even though the company can lay us off any time they choose with no warning. It sucks, but it’s a reminder that you are your best ally. (emphasis mine)

The double standard actually never occurred to me but it makes total sense to point this out as an obvious example of the power disparity between employees and employers.

What then should the company be thought of?

I’m tempted to say that something of a frenemy or, in other words, the company legitimately does want to help you on some level. It’s just that the level involved is very shallow, unreliable, not very trust worthy and so on. It’s not a friendship you should take very seriously but probably one you should try to exploit to the best of your ability.

By “exploit” I mean working around restrictive and illegitimate regulations that typically work to hinder your happiness or the benefits you can give to others more than they help any of those things. For example, regulations surrounding how long or how many lunch breaks you can take. Many articles I’ve seen have detailed that more breaks are preferable to less the longer you work. So you should take that in stride and make sure you take micro breaks during work if possible. That way you’re able to stay active and alert more easily and thus less likely to get in trouble with management.

Paradoxically, taking those micro breaks itself may of course sometimes get you in trouble. When I say “micro breaks” by the way, I mostly mean sitting down for a minute or two and catching your breath. Maybe thinking about your next move or what you’re going to do for the rest of the day, etc.

There’s no typical ratio of friend-enemy that I can give you for any individual company and you’ll most likely be the better judge of what the ratio than I will anyways. On the other hand, maybe check out what Aritstotle had to say on friendship and see if there’s anything worth considering there.

Happy slacking!


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