The Office: Your Job Is Like A Big, Unhappy Family!

Hate your boss? Maybe that's because he's a stand-in for your withholding dad. Competitive with a coworker? Obviously she reminds you of your little sister. According to a piece in today's Times, workplace relationships tend to mirror family (dys)function. Which means, basically, we're all screwed.

As people spend more and more time at the office, workplace relationships have grown closer and more fraught - in short, more family-like. An increasing number of companies are actively analyzing family dynamics to help manage office interactions. says one shrink,

Work is nothing more than an entirely complex set of relationships. You have partners that are your equals, subordinates, superiors...It’s parents and siblings. All of these dynamics that are exactly the same in the workplace, just the titles are different.”

As is so often the case, things come down to birth order:

Firstborns...tend to be fearful of losing their position and rank, so they may be extremely anxious at a time of layoffs and downsizing. Second-born children tend to be most adventurous and open to change, he said. In fact, [psychologist] Dr. Dattner said that companies he had worked with found that when sending employees overseas, second-born children tended to fare better than older ones. As the older of two daughters, Ms. Frankel said she sometimes feels competitive with Ms. Delio, which reminds her of competing with her sister for their parents’ attention.

Of course, as a composition teacher might say, where's the "so what?" To a degree, all interaction can probably be reduced to familial dynamics - which in turn can likely be explained by some biological imperative. At its worst, can overanalysis of this kind of pre-determining absolve us of adult responsibility? And to a certain degree, isn't what they're describing, at the end of the day, just your "personality?" For the most part, it seems moot: I'm scared of losing my job not because I'm the elder of two, but because we're in a recession; probably any responsible employee craves a boss's approval. What's more interesting is the degree to which an office life can allow someone to break out of his or her assigned roles, building new relationships and dynamics that in a sense give you a chance to do it better. To be crassly pop cultural, Don Draper may be a philanderer in the suburbs, but his commitment to his job is unstinting; where the character of Peggy may be one of a large crowd at home, her experience with dealing with a lot of people allows her to navigate the work "family" and promote herself. To the extent awareness of your proclivities makes you better able to harness them, I suppose this kind of knowledge is useful. But to the extent the formality of an office setting imposes structure and a certain professional courtesy, it seems like that, conversely, can inform home life. Those of us who work from home can just morph into spoiled only children and throw tantrums...with no one to hear.

Family and Office Roles Mix [New York Times]