As regular readers of this blog know, I have many issues and concerns with public sector unions and the toll that many of them extract from American taxpayers, and I hold public sector workers ultimately responsible for the excesses that are so prevalent in that sector. Today, though, I want to write in praise of one important aspect of public sector work life.
I have had the good fortune of attending several dinner events for local police officers and other public sector workers, and last weekend the retirement dinner for my Town Administrator. What I see at these events is a bond built between fellow employees that is rapidly becoming lost in the private sector. I respect what I see, and frankly I envy/yearn for it, as I’m sure many others in the private sector do.
These public sector employees have worked together for 15, 20, 30 years, and there is a camaraderie and bond that is built over that time. Even if they move between local governments, they keep in touch with each other, collaborate, gather to share war stories and experiences, and just plain make sure they stay in touch. They don’t move from Chicago, to New York, to Atlanta, and then Los Angeles. They live in one area, and their roots grow deep.
There were about 150 people at this dinner, and it seemed everyone either knew each other, or had a connection with each other that made for easy, enthusiastic conversation throughout a 5 hour evening.
These types of bonds were once prevalent in the private sector, but they are rapidly disappearing. The constant moving from one company to the next, “telecommuting”, travel jobs, employment uncertainty, and a requirement for an ultra-high level of productivity disconnect us from those we work with. Your average 35 year old private sector worker would attend the event I was at on Friday and say to himself, “who is going to be at my retirement dinner, and what stories will they tell in their tribute that even a quarter of the audience can relate to? How will I rally 150 people to an event like this without having 10 different cliques from different phases and employers in my professional life?”
Bonding in the workplace is important, and not just because it makes us feel good to have deeper friendships at work. It also helps create a sense of being part of a team working to achieve a certain objective, versus a group of more random professionals put together to do work. It creates a higher level of productivity, knowing who to go to for what, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each other, and an institutional knowledge that is extremely valuable. Think of a football team and coach together for 5 years or more, running the same offensive and defensive system over that time, working towards an objective, travelling and bonding individually and as families– versus a team of individuals (and strangers) put together at the beginning of a season to try to achieve a similar objective. The first environment would be far more fun, fulfilling, organized, and would have much higher odds of success.
I believe it is likely that at some point the pendulum will swing in a different direction in the private sector. That gradually over time value will once again be placed on stability, consistency, and deep bonds between employees. And I’m not talking about just by employers, but by employees as well. Employers will see the value of a consistent team, but so will those that work for them. There will be a time when an employee says to herself, “sure, I could leave for a bit more money and opportunity, but I like it here, have a bond with the people I work with, and I don’t want to leave my team”. For now, the public sector has a lock on this, and they are certainly fortunate for that.