You and Your Relationships – At Work

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By Stacey Rose, PhD, LCSW

If you are one of the lucky ones to be employed today, you might think you have no right to complain.  And maybe you don’t; but just because you have a job doesn’t mean you are happy.  The relationships we have with co-workers and bosses can be just as stressful as our relationships with our spouse, parents, siblings, and children.  Sometimes these relationships are more stressful.  Most people spend 35-40 or more hours per week at their job which is typically more time than they spend with their family.  There will inevitably be stress and conflict when so much time is spent with others.  Knowing how to manage your emotions in the workplace will help you save your job while coping effectively with situations that trigger emotions within you.  

So when you are angry with your boss or hurt by a comment that a co-worker made, what can you do?  Communication is just as important at work as it is in your personal life.  But be careful!  Being able to professionally say what you need to say can be hard if you are emotional; and it could cost you your job!  If you are stressed out by an assignment your boss has given you and need more time to do it, you have choices about how you handle this.  (You always have choices!)  You can talk badly about your boss behind his back and be miserable or you can diplomatically approach your boss letting him know you need more time.  Even if he doesn’t care or cannot give you more time with the assignment, it can still be beneficial to confront the workload he is giving you so you do not get taken advantage of. 

Oftentimes, the rose we play at work is similar to the role we play in our families.  Think about it.  Do you react to your colleagues the same way you’d react to your boss?  If you are the black sheep or the leader in your family, do you feel the same way at work?  If, instead, you are the oldest and have taken on a great deal of responsibility in your family, do you find yourself doing the same thing with co-workers?  Just because we are in a different environment dies bit mean we act differently.  We bring our same personalities with us everywhere we go. 

A woman I know who loved her job upon being hired as a business consultant grew unhappy in this position quickly.  She was excited to start this job when she was hired because the offer was everything she was looking for; great salary, benefits, and even close to home!  The problem started when she noticed her co-workers worried about their personal lives and she would find herself listening to them and making suggestions.  This is what she had done much her whole life with her family; she was the ‘consultant’ of the family.  As a child, her parents would ask her opinion at an age where she barely knew enough to have an opinion!  As a teenager, her sister and brother would seek out her advice for problems they had in school and with friends.  This woman was a consultant in training!  It was logical for her to create a career out of it, until it became overwhelming.  She found herself staying after work to advise her colleagues on issues that were totally unrelated to work.  It wasn’t until one day when she had three co-workers waiting to talk with her at the same time, when she realized this was becoming a problem.  

So, who are you?  Who are you at home in your family and at work?  Do you assume the same role?  Is it working for you?  If not, are you willing to make changes?  Answer these questions to better get to know yourself in your work place…

  • When were you born? (Birth order)  Do you have siblings?  Are they older or younger?  if so, how many?  Once you answer these questions, you can compare to your ‘work family’.  Have you taken on ‘siblings’ at work, either looking up to others such as looking up to an older brother or sister?  Or if you are an only child, do you tend to isolate and entertain yourself?
  • In your family, did you eat meals together?  If so, do you eat with co-workers?  Do you eat alone at lunch time?
  • What types of things made you mad in your family?  Has something similar happened with a co-worker?  Did you respond at work in a similar fashion to the way you did in your family?  If so, are you glad you did or do you wish you would have handled it differently?
  • How did you deal with conflict in your family?  Did you confront others or did you avoid issues altogether?  Do you find yourself doing the same thing at work?

While there may be similarities between the role you play at work and the role you played in your family, you still have choices.  You can choose to be different at work.  It is up to you.  We don’t choose our families and typically we don’t choose our co-workers; but you can always choose how you want to handle yourself with all of them!