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Work Can Be Many Things But It Is Also Transactional

Recently I was chatting with a friend and they mentioned that when I was laid off earlier this year I was in a better spot than others in the tech industry because I saw it coming and had started making plans. I was finishing off projects that could be added to my resume as accomplishments, saving money, connecting with my network, increasing my time engaging on LinkedIn, etc. So when I came across this article that seems to be making a bit of a stir, I understood.

Inside the strange, secretive rise of the ‘overemployed’

Yes, there are still folks out there working multiple, full-time, remote jobs simultaneously. It’s unethical, sure, but can I understand it from the perspective of being ready when your first job decides to lay off a bunch of staff, including you? Absolutely.

As the CareerBuddy newsletter said when talking about this article:

Many bosses, of course, would argue that they’re paying you to work full-time. If you get your work done quickly, the traditional expectation is that you let them know you’re available to take on more tasks. You owe it to your company to put in the hours you’re being paid for — all of them.

But that’s exactly what these ‘over-employed’ guys used to do back in the days as career monogamists.

And what did they get in return? Disappointing raises that were swallowed by inflation. Unfulfilled promises of promotions. Abrupt layoffs via a single email without any warning.

This is true, there is no doubt about that. They are redefining the transactional aspect of work into outputs other than hours worked, although they are doing it without the employer’s consent, so that is a problem. But, can you blame them for looking for backup plans in our current employment market?

Having read this, I took this context into listening to a recent Happiness Lab podcast about having friends at work. Dr. Santos started by talking about someone who wrote about not wanting to make friends at work, because of the risk of having to layoff a friend, or be accused of favoritism, etc. Laurie then went on to spend the rest of the episode talking about the research showing how important having good friends is, including at work.

As I listened I was torn. Because I do value friendships that I’ve made everywhere, including people I have worked with in the past. Heck, I met my wife at work.

On the other hand, I bristled at the critique that this approach seemed like a very mercenary approach to the workplace because we all should take a more mercenary approach to our workplaces. It is clear that employers are taking a mercenary approach to it, why shouldn’t we? Our work is transactional, even if we do have friends there.

So yeah, there are benefits to making friends at work, online, at the coffee shop, etc. The benefits of having good friends are immense and there’s no reason to avoid making friends at work. There’s also nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t really like the people you work with enough to make friends with them. It’s a job.

In the end that’s the thing that I think causes so much confusion. When I hear people talking about how much more effective employees are when they make friends at work, it makes my hair stand on end a bit. Because the benefits of having good friendships don’t exist solely to make us better workers. We’re more than our work. Our work is a transaction that we take part in every day. We do work, our employer pays us. We shouldn’t let any kind of friendship or supposed loyalty blind us to that fact either. When our employers don’t consider the money they pay to be worth the work that we are doing, for whatever reason they have to think that, they have shown an uncanny willingness to let us go. There is no loyalty from that end of things and so no loyalty is deserved from the other end of the transaction either.

Make friends at work because you enjoy some of the people you work with, and being connected to good friends is good for our health and happiness. But never forget the transaction that is taking place every day of your employment, either.


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One Comment

  1. One factor you didn’t mention is that sometimes employers can use the “Company Name family” or Company Name friends” tropes as substitutions for higher pay. You’ll see it in things like “we support each other like family ” here juxtaposed with less competitive pay rates.

    Some employers manipulate you into accepting subpar material rewards in exchange for an intangible feel good “benefit” of a “supportive” environment.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – there are some things that I do expect from an employer that are perhaps a little less tangible than my rate of pay. Things like DEI policies, good health benefits, and a recognition that life happens and sometimes we cannot give our jobs 100%.

    But this myth of a workplace where “everyone is your friend/family” is just that – a myth. You’re not a regular at Cheers, you’re an employer. Make friends at work. But don’t mistake it for being fairly paid or decent benefits or policies that support you when you have to fly 5000 miles in a hurry.

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