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How We End Up Working With The Same People At Every Job

You might not be at your company in five years, but chances are you might still have some of the same colleagues.

How We End Up Working With The Same People At Every Job
[Photo: Flickr user Sheila Tostes]

Loyalty to institutions is not necessarily a hallmark of the modern workforce.

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Many studies show that especially young workers expect to work for several companies over their careers. But loyalty itself isn’t dead. As people move between employers and in and out of self-employment, many find themselves working with the same people again and again. These relationships endure even as the situations change. Handled right, this new loyalty can be a source of real stability in a career, and make work a lot more meaningful too. Here’s how to cultivate work relationships that last beyond any given job:

Treat everyone with respect

Laura Shin, a freelance business and finance reporter, has followed editors to multiple new publications. But she isn’t just nice to editors. “Being nice to everyone, no matter their level, has reaped unintentional rewards for me,” she says. “An editorial assistant at one place referred me to a friend of hers who was an editor somewhere else, and so now I’ve written several pieces for that publication.”

Cara Power, a leadership coach who specializes in networking, says that “It’s a huge mistake to assume your current position in the professional hierarchy will remain unchanged–that those in subordinate roles (e.g. employees, vendors, consultants, etc.) won’t someday be a potential employer or client.” Former interns have been known to start billion-dollar companies. Well-connected folks dwell in possibilities, not present job titles.

Be there when the chips are down

Anyone can reach out to someone who’s immediately professionally useful. Real loyalty comes from reaching out to people who can’t currently help you. Iyna Bort Caruso, a scriptwriter and author, reports that when people she works with are laid off, “I try to help them through the transition by sending leads, inviting them to tap into my LinkedIn connections and/or offering advice on freelance options.” If you thought a person was decent to work with, chances are she’ll land somewhere. She’ll remember the help.

Don’t burn people out

If you’re hiring in a new situation, you’ll want to bring in people you remember as hard-working. You’ll want people who came through in a crunch. That said, employment is a two-way street, and if you want people to want to work for you again, you can’t leave them unhappy in the process. When Paul Berry was the CTO of The Huffington Post, he worked with several developers who then became his first full time employees when he founded RebelMouse, a digital publishing platform. “We always knew while we were often running sprints to get projects and ideas live in time, that the longer goal was always to be marathon runners,” he says. “We gave each other space for our families, for our hobbies, our passions, and vacations.” Long term relationships must be sustainable to thrive.

Be fun

No one wants to recreate a tedious situation. Says Berry, “We always valued having fun during work, keeping things light, never throwing tantrums or losing our heads. And this really counts over the years–you grow to love getting emails or phone calls from each other instead of dreading them.”

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For relationships to last, they must make you feel energized, not drained. That means no drama, no insecurity, and no fretting over who’s getting credit for every good idea. Says Power, “Whether or not you’re aware of it, you have a personal brand. Be conscious of how you advertise it. You want your tag line to be something to the effect of, ‘problem solver’ or ‘creator of value” rather than ‘difficult to work with.’”

Don’t treat goodbyes as final

It’s human nature to mourn, or even get angry, when a good person leaves the organization where you work. This is true even if he has really good reasons. But in the modern world, goodbye doesn’t mean forever. So don’t burn bridges. Juda Engelmayer, a senior vice president at 5W Public Relations agency, worked with Neil Steinberg years ago when he was a VP for the company. Steinberg left in 2008 for “an incredible growth opportunity for him,” Engelmayer says. Fortunately, it was a “respectfully handled departure. Once he left, he kept in touch and was always a good resource for us here at 5W.” Fast forward several years, and 5W Public Relations has grown and matured and people recognized that Steinberg’s outside experience would be helpful.

He recently came back after a multi-year hiatus to lead some of the new areas where the company wants to excel. “Having been through several senior staff people, you know what works,” says Engelmayer. Rather than viewing people as in or out, view your alumni as an incredibly valuable resource–because chances are good that they are.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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