On the Importance of Coworkers
Professionals from different fields weigh in on when you know you’ve got it good
I remember the first time someone I barely knew bought me lunch. Nadia and I were on break from our sales associate job at a women’s clothes store in the mall, and we were standing in the food court.
“I got it,” she had waved me off when I went to pay, and just like that, I had a free meal.
This may sound like a simple gesture, but at the time, I didn’t really realize that people could be generous that way. We both worked the same job for the same low wages. She had a husband and a host of expenses I was only starting to realize as a sophomore in college on a scholarship. But Nadia was a generous and understanding person. She became one of my favorite coworkers and, eventually, a friend, who helped me get by in an otherwise surprisingly stressful part-time gig.
Over the years, I have found that my relationships with my coworkers have impacted my workday and, to a greater extent, my career. In some cases, having my coworkers as friends and confidants has made mundane and sometimes frustrating jobs actually bearable, and I have walked away from a few jobs with a network of friends that have outlasted my time with the companies. At jobs where I have enjoyed my role, I’ve found that good coworkers have been essential to keeping the wheels turning and helping me do my best work. Sometimes I have had nothing in common with my coworkers on a personal level but working together brought us close as people. Sometimes I have forged close bonds with coworkers as friends but have found them impossible to work with in a productive fashion.
As much as a whole list of other factors play a role in how much I enjoy a job, the quality of my coworkers have sometimes made or tainted my success and happiness at a particular workplace.
So what makes a good coworker? And what impact can a good coworker have on the work we do and our experience at work on a day-to-day basis? To find out, I asked some people from different industries to weigh in.
“In commercial aviation, good coworkers directly influence how smoothly the entire operation runs. Like other work places, one coworker with a miserable attitude can have an almost domino-like effect on the attitudes of everyone else in the flight crew. Unlike in a normal work environment, however, flight crew members are locked in metal tubes together for hours at a time, and stepping outside for a moment is not an option. Interactions between the members of a flight crew directly impact the customer experience and the safety of a flight.
“Therefore, a good coworker in the aviation industry needs to be able to slip into their work persona and leave all their personal problems and prejudices outside of the airplane. As a passenger, it is easy to notice the difference between a crew that gets along well and a crew that is barely tolerating each other.
“In addition to being able to interact professionally with individuals they might normally want to avoid like the plague, good coworkers must also have a high level of proficiency in both the normal and emergency procedures of their station, because if something goes wrong at 35,000 ft, each crew member needs to be assured that they can rely on the others at a moment’s notice in any variety of abnormal situations.”
“I’ve had a lot of experiences in which my co-workers really make or break the job. I mean, even the most boring days at the bookshop or cafes I’ve worked were bearable because I genuinely enjoyed the company of many of my peers. At those jobs, the best of those relationships weren’t always about having good working relationships, although that was extra nice; those were more about getting to hang out with creative, funny people all day.
“It wasn’t really until my first office job that I felt like I deepened my working relationships: For a couple years, I had the perfect Good Cop, Bad Cop partnership with a fellow supervisor, and we both had a manager who I continue to call a mentor: professionally, creatively, and personally. Working with them helped to make me a better collaborator, to learn how to ‘work smart, not hard,’ and to trust in my leadership skills. My mentor was the person who gave me a job that changed the trajectory of my life the day I moved back to New York, and she’s continued to support me for years, believing in my capabilities even beyond what I could see.”
“Good coworkers have pretty much made or broken every major job I’ve had. In my current position, good coworkers have made up for bad upper management in terms of my day-to-day happiness. The best ‘good’ coworkers I’ve had recently are the ones that start off as really strong working relationships and turned into great friendships.”
“I was on my first conference call, listening to a client executive and account executive have some type of weird dick-fencing conversation to determine who knew the most industry buzzwords. After about five minutes of this, I rolled my eyes and made a jack-off motion with my hand. I glanced over and realized my co-worker, Chuck, was doing the exact same thing and my first office friendship was born.
“Dealing with corporate idiocy at the entry level can be a frustrating and soul-draining experience, but having someone else who will at least acknowledge and mock the insanity of it can get you through it. It’s definitely the only way I did. I work as an independent consultant now and while I definitely don’t miss the sometimes comically evil politics of corporate culture, I do miss having office-buddies I could snark with.”
FORMER RETAIL ASSOCIATE
“Before starting grad school, I worked retail in a bookstore for three years. Working there was awful. We got paid very little for all the hard work we did, some customers and celebrity authors were horrendous, and working for certain people made me question how bad being broke would actually be. That begs the question, if I hated it so much, why did I stay there for three years? It was my co-workers. They provided me with a sense of community and camaraderie, as we could commiserate with each other. Whether it be kicking back with video games, watching awful movies together after work, or just complaining about various topics at work, I somehow got through those eight-hour shifts. I found out I got into grad school at work. I didn’t text my parents first; I ran around the store telling all my friends. And each one of them congratulated me, cried with me, were genuinely excited for me.
“With the recent tragedy in Orlando, I find that I’m not same. I’ve been shook to my core. And yet, instead of reaching out to friends out here in California, some of the first people I expressed my feelings to were my former co-workers. They know me. It’d be hard not to, given how much time we spent with each other. They were some of the first people who made me feel like I had a family outside of my biological family. I love my brothers and parents but they aren’t always accepting of my sexual orientation. My co-workers were. Hell, they sometimes tried to help me find boyfriends. Many of them do not like to dance but still came to my parties, which often took place at dance-y, gay clubs. As much as I hated the job, being able to work with them is something I will never regret.”
I love my brothers and parents but they aren’t always accepting of my sexual orientation. My co-workers were. Hell, they sometimes tried to help me find boyfriends.
“To me a good co-worker is someone you could confide in. You are around them sometimes more than your own family so sometimes you may discuss personal things in your life. You want to feel confident that they won’t discuss this with others, resulting in office gossip. Also a good co-worker works just as hard as you. It annoys me when I’m checking emails, answering calls, handling walk-in requests, and the person next to me is checking their Instagram all day or secretly reading Fifty Shades of Grey.”
SPECIAL EVENTS COORDINATOR
“Communication, reliability and collaboration are massively important to me. (Under the umbrella of communication: honest, immediate feedback, so no one is left guessing.) I think those qualities build a relationship with a sturdy foundation. My best coworkers and I always knew the status of what others were working on and if they needed help or could genuinely offer help.”
“Based on my experience with bad coworkers at my current job and good coworkers tutoring, I can tell you [the importance of] trust, respect, and dependability. Someone who likes their job and does it with enthusiasm and pride makes it pleasant to come to work. The atmosphere is more relaxed but positive and productive, everyone feels like they are contributing and working as a team, not competing. When mistakes are made, people are not criticized as much as taught to make corrections.”
“One of my first jobs was at a sleep away summer camp that specialized in music. I’d gone every year since I was about 9 and by 15 I was a lifeguard and music counselor. I remember very distinctively how much I hated camp and how much I dreaded going every year, and how somewhere in the middle of the summer, by July I suppose, I would be so miserable I would do just about anything to be left alone. I hated those summers, the loneliness and how everyday seemed longer than the last.
“Somewhere in late July a new round of counselors were hired and somehow I managed to make a connection. Having a friend there with me made teaching rowdy, rude, over privileged children how to swim and play their wind instruments tolerable. Even fun.
“I’ve carried this sentiment to almost every job I’ve ever had. Difficult coworkers merely make the day longer, dragging out every minute that separated me from my home. Having a person at work who might not be a friend necessarily but simply someone who delivers the same respect I give them changes the way the day flows on. Less stress and less headache.”
HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER
“Aside from my mother, the only time I have seen older women cry has been at work. It’s unsettling. Me — young enough to be their daughter’s age — and them — veteran teachers bursting into tears during a moment of vulnerability. These impromptu therapy sessions make the grimmest days survivable for all of us.”
Kimberly Lew once knew she had a good office mate when her coworker understood that when she said, “I’m going out for a walk,” it usually meant, “I’m going to Duane Reade to get candy” and did not judge her. www.kimberlylew.com
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