This may surprise you, but I go to work to work. Over the years and over many, many jobs, I have pretty much kept to myself. I like to think that I am a diligent, focused worker and my prime concern when I am at work is to work — to do the job that I am being paid to do. I have had a few jobs where I became friendly with my co-workers and — to be honest — that took a bit of adjustment time. I never looked at work as a social situation. I never considered my "co-workers" to be my "friends." They certainly weren't my enemies (except for the few that actually were). I maintained a cordial, business relationship with my co-workers and the majority of my discussions with co-workers were business-related. I didn't socialize with my co-workers. As a matter of fact, I never even considered socializing with my co-workers. I will admit that, in the few rare instances when I let my guard down, I have maintained some friendships that carried on long past the time I spent at the particular job during which I first made them. (I just attended a birthday party for a close friend that started out as just a co-worker at I job I had five jobs ago.)
In my defense, one of the reasons I had not attempted to cultivate friendships with my co-workers is the nature of my chosen profession. I have been working in and out of the commercial printing industry with the better part of forty years. For those of you unfamiliar with the commercial printing industry, I can tell you that it employs the absolute scum of the earth and lowest of the low that society has to offer. The commercial printing industry is chockful of dopes, idiots and morons... and that's being kind. Those of you who either work in or have dealings with commercial printers know what I am talking about. If you disagree with me, well, you are the person I just described.
At my current job, I rarely (if ever) speak to my co-workers. I will only talk to any of then if it pertains to print dates or the design of an ad. Otherwise, I have work to do. I don't have time for mindless chit-chat with a bunch of people who — despite three years of employment — I don't know their last names. Conversely, my co-workers know nothing about me. They know I live in Pennsylvania. (I work in New Jersey.) If they are observant, they have seen a wedding ring on my left hand, so, if they have a brain in their heads, they can assume I am married. But, I don't think any of them know my wife's first name or if I have any children... and that's just fine with me.
The commercial printer I work for produces full color advertisements for supermarkets of all sizes. Personally, I am responsible for the layout and production of the ads for two markets — an on-going assignment that keeps me busy week in and week out. Recently, the company acquired the account of a chain of markets in the New York area whose ads they would like me to produce. In order for me to do this, they hired a new graphic artist whom I was tasked to train to take over one of my more needy, more cumbersome clients. (That's a story for another blog.) The new artist is a very quiet young lady. On her first day on the job, she sat attentively by my side while I offered a detailed "play-by-play" narration of how to layout the ad that would eventually be passed on to her. I talked and talked and explained and illuminated while she furiously scribbled notes in a notebook. Every so often, she would politely interrupt my barrage of instruction to ask for clarification, but overall, I talked and she listened. This method proved very successful. I the subsequent weeks, Kathy (the new artist) had taken over the ad like a pro. Her questions came few and far between and her work output was fast, efficient, accurate and professional. My watchful eye became relaxed as I realized that she no longer required regular supervision. A few times, she would ask for specific layout advice, but, overall, she was working independently and that was the goal.
A few days ago, I was obligated (I think) to attend a holiday get-together for my immediate co-workers — the ones in my department. When this little soiree was first proposed, I thought that I would rather have root canal sans anesthesia, than sit in a restaurant with a bunch of people I didn't really know and didn't want to really know. But, I went.
Midway through dinner, I glanced around the table and noticed that a few co-workers were missing. Theresa, who organized this thing, was sitting next to me. Theresa is a particularly loud co-worker who was probably on the property when construction began on my employer's building, so they just built around her. I turned to Theresa and — against my better judgement — initiated a conversation.
"I noticed," I began to Theresa as I gestured towards my co-workers at the long table, most of whom are close to my own age., "that some of the kids aren't here." By "kids," of course, I was referring to several new hires who appear to still be a few years from their thirtieth birthday, Theresa frowned and with a throaty, nicotine-tinged voice, said, "Yeah, none of them wanted to come." Then, she said with an accusatory tone, "What's up with that Kathy girl?" Theresa seethed a bit when she pronounced Kathy's name.
"What do you mean?" I asked. I couldn't believe I was furthering the conversation.
Theresa leaned right in. "There's definitely something wrong with her."
"She is shy.," I replied.
"Oh no!," Theresa barked, "She's more that just shy! She's socially awkward. I looked right at her and she won't even say 'hello!' She's weird."
"Show me an artist that isn't socially awkward!" I began with a little levity, but I felt I couldn't let Theresa get away with her loudmouth, unwarranted condemnation of someone who I felt was doing a pretty good job — and wasn't there to defend herself. "Kathy happens to be doing a very job on the ad she took over. She knows what she's doing and she needs no supervision anymore. Sure, she's quiet, but she's there to do a job and she is doing that job." I concluded my defense of Kathy by adding, "Besides, Theresa... I don't say 'hello' to you either."
Theresa laughed nervously and promptly changed the subject.
The next day at work, my boss was making the bi-weekly rounds of distributing paystubs. He stopped at my desk and thanked me for sticking up for Kathy's work practices. He also expressed his displeasure, deeming Theresa's comments as "out of line," considering she has absolutely no work-related interaction with Kathy.
I smiled and went back to work... because I had work to do.
Footnote to this story: Kathy tendered her resignation after two months of employment. I hope Theresa is happy.