I thought of work as my family — and then they laid me off

A reader writes:

Recently, I have been silently replaced while furloughed through no fault of my own, although I was led to believe that they would be bringing me back. I somewhat feel betrayed because I loved the work and the job had my absolute loyalty and attention.

I read the article you did with the New York Times about companies that say they’re “like a family.” I don’t have much family and it seems like I’ve been trying to fill that by creating a community/family setting at work, but after reading what you had to say about how work shouldn’t be like family, I see why it’s an issue. The idea has left me lost, feeling like I can’t trust anyone and that I’ll never get that feeling of true connection anywhere in my life.

I suppose I’m an idealist in thinking that everyone should be working because they love their job and not just for financial rewards. I think this is why they didn’t call me back, because it was never about the money for me. It was the mission and purpose behind what we were doing which was more important to me. They probably wanted to replace me for someone who treated work like work instead of doing something for the greater good and for a sense of community and family.

I’m really curious what you think about this and if there’s any advice for someone who’s trying to balance work and meaningful connections in their life. So far, I haven’t found any alternatives for feeling like a part of a family.

I obviously don’t have all the facts you have but it’s fairly unlikely that your former employer replaced you because of how committed you were to their work, unless that was manifesting in some very unusual ways. Typically employers benefit when employees don’t see work as work, for all the reasons I talked about in that New York Times article: it can lead you to work longer hours, accept lower pay, not complain about bad management, and not advocate for yourself — even if the employer doesn’t return that loyalty when you need it.

Since employers benefit from those dynamics, it typically doesn’t count against you with them. In fact, often employers try to cultivate that feeling in employees and sometimes attempt to guilt people for not having it. So I wouldn’t assume that was why they didn’t bring you back.

I think you might be feeling that way because you’re looking for a reason, which is natural, and feeling like this a place where you went wrong. But there are so many other more likely reasons, and some of them have nothing to do with you at all! Maybe they wanted a new perspective or approach, or maybe they felt it was worth trying a different skill set in the role, or maybe they combined the work you used to do with another role and wanted to bring in someone who could do both. Maybe someone came in their path who they wanted to hire, and this was the easiest spot to put them in. There are dozens of potential explanations and it’s very hard, if not impossible, to know what really happened. What we do know is that it was crappy of them to indicate they’d bring you back and then not update you once it became clear that wouldn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean you can’t trust anyone. It means these people behaved poorly in this situation. (That said, I’d be cautious about trusting employers with this kind of thing, generally. They’re going to act in their own interests, which won’t always be your interests.)

I do think you’re right to reflect on how to get the balance right between the reality that work is work and a very natural desire for meaningful connections in the professional part of your life. My recommendation is to think of work as a team, not a family. It’s a business relationship; you’re all working toward a common goal, but all parties should advocate for their own interests and be willing to part ways if they realize separating is in their best interests.

And it’s great to have warm, friendly relationships with colleagues! There’s no reason you can’t aim for that. Just don’t rely on that to the exclusion of meaningful connections outside of work too, since the relationships you form at work will often (although not always) be transient and can end when the work ends.

One other thing while you’re thinking about all of this: You wrote that everyone should be working because they love their jobs, rather than just for money. That’s an incredibly fulfilling thing when it happens — but you’re very lucky when it does! The vast majority of the world works for money, and that’s okay. Many, many people — most people — have jobs they tolerate rather than love. There’s nothing wrong with that; those jobs need to be done, and there’s value in that work. But for some reason we’ve taught a whole generation that they’re supposed to love their work … leaving them to feel like failures when it doesn’t happen. We’d all be much better off if we instead made the bar for “success” that you find work you’re pretty good at, can do without being miserable, and which earns you a living … while leaving you time to find emotional fulfillment from other parts of your life. If you do happen to end up in a job you love, that’s a bonus … but we set everyone up for frustration and angst if we talk about it like a must-have.

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. The New Wanderer*

    OP, it sounds like the kind of community you want in your life might be found in volunteering or hobbies rather than work. Those are areas where passion plays a bigger role because people don’t get paid so their motivation is more likely to be love for the subject matter or the objective. You might find “your people” in a new activity!

    1. Ashley*

      I would definitely try to find a place you enjoy volunteering and work to building bonds there and keep work a little more transactional, though you may kind a friend at your next job it is just rare. If you are religious you might also find the family feeling you seem to be missing at a smaller church/congregation.

      1. Loosey Goosey*

        Yes, this is what I was thinking. Volunteer work, a faith community, or some other type of affinity group might give LW the sense of belonging and meaning she’s looking for. LW’s attitude sounds very familiar to me from my time in non-profits, as those orgs do tend to encourage strong emotional investment from their staff – but as Alison has talked about a lot here, that culture is usually not productive or healthy for the employees. LW, I feel for you and I hope you can find something to connect with in your life outside of work!

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Found family is big in the LGBTQ community because many of these people have been rejected by their biological family. It just means forming a community that takes care of each other and celebrates together. Honestly that may also be easier with single people or childless couples because they are more likely to be looking for found family than a family with parents and kids, but other people are out there looking for community too.

      I will be honest, forming friendships as an adult can also be as nerve-racking as dating. You do need to invite people on friend dates and open yourself up to rejection from a potential in order to know them to see if an closer friendship forms.

      1. JM60*

        It’s also worth noting that LGBT people don’t form friends at work because being on the same team at work doesn’t mean that coworkers share the same values. Since it’s ultimately the work/pay that brings (almost) everyone to work, LGBT people are likely to be on the same team as homophobic and/or transphobic coworkers. Though I don’t know if my coworkers are homo/transphobic or not, and I don’t have anything against them, it’s one of the reasons why I don’t socialize with my coworkers often. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having warm relationships with people at work, and sometimes becoming friends outside of work, but this is one reason why not to see everyone at work as family.

        With the LGBT community, there’s no guarantee that me and someone else will have the same hobbies and interests merely because both of us are in the same LGBT alphabet. However, it does mean that we are much more likely to be accepting of the other person’s authentic self. We are also more likely to have some similar experiences around homophobia.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Well, I think that’s true for everyone and it’s not less true for LGBTQ folks. Working on the same team doesn’t mean you share values or interests. Your coworkers are not chosen by you.

        2. SimplyTheBest*

          Let’s maybe not with the sweeping generalizations. I’m queer, I have plenty of close friendships with past and present coworkers who are not. I know plenty of other queer people who have built true friendships with people that they work with, both queer and not. The queer experience is vast and varied.

          1. allathian*

            Indeed. I think it’s more a question of shared values rather than being queer or whatever. It’s hard to be friends with someone who thinks you don’t have a right to exist or at the very least that you don’t belong at that workplace. I don’t think most women would want to be friends at work with a guy who thinks all women should be homemakers or that victims of rape are “asking for it”, and who thinks that expressing such opinions at work is an acceptable thing to do.

            1. JM60*

              I think people who say I’m overgeneralizing mostly missed my point. You’re absolutely right when you say that “It’s hard to be friends with someone who thinks you don’t have a right to exist”.

              Just because I’m polite with someone at work doesn’t mean I consider them to be friends. Maybe we can’t be friends because you don’t think I have a right to exist. Maybe we can’t be friends through no one’s fault for some other reason. Maybe we can be friends, but aren’t because I’m putting up walls. After all, I may not often socialize with co-workers partly because I don’t want to discover which of them don’t think I have the right to exist. (In my case, the latter isn’t the main reason I don’t socialize much at work, but it is a factor.)

          2. JM60*

            What sweeping generalization did I make? I didn’t say that LGBT+ people generally don’t have close friendships at work, but rather that it’s one additional reason why someone might not.

            My main point was that what bring people together at work (making a living) doesn’t mean that you’ll mesh well on a more personal level.

            1. Stopgap*

              You didn’t say generally. You said “LGBT people don’t form friends at work”. I take it you didn’t mean that as a universal truth, but it reads like one.

              1. JM60*

                Ah! I think I’m usually pretty careful to include qualifiers such as “often” or “usually” when appropriate, but I see that I didn’t do that this time.

        3. Lily of the Field*

          People who disagree with any lifestyle can still be true and loyal friends. Only being friends with people who mirror oneself in all things leads to a severely diminished life. I am a devout Chrustian, and one of my most cherished former colleagues was a practicing Satanist. This is not to advocate for hate, but to assert that differing opinions and lifestyles is not a hindrance to enriching, fulfilling friendships.

          1. Kit*

            Being LGBT isn’t a lifestyle, and calling it that is honestly such a homophobia dog whistle for LGBT people. Not sure if that’s your intention based on the message, but something to keep in mind,

          2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

            It can absolutely be a hinderance if someone “disagrees with” who another person fundamentally is. There is a big difference between “I wish Jane wouldn’t drink so much at work parties” (a behavior) and “I wish Jane would stop being gay” (an immutable facet of being).

          3. FridayFriyay*

            If your opinion is that my identity and family are less worthy or valuable than yours we cannot be friends. I don’t have time for the level of self-loathing and compartmentalization I’d have to feel to make that dynamic feel like true friendship.

          4. inksmith*

            I can be polite to you if you disagree with my “lifestyle” (of living alone with my cats, I guess maybe it’s an issue if you like dogs… or is it only not OK when I live alone with my cats in a gay way?) and I have to work with you. I cannot be friends with you if you’re homophobic or transphobic – you’re literally someone who thinks there’s something wrong with me, my identity and all of my friends. Why would I even want to be friends with you? Hell, why would you even want to be friends with me?

            1. JM60*

              I can be polite to you if you disagree with my “lifestyle” [. . .] and I have to work with you. I cannot be friends with you if you’re homophobic or transphobic

              Yup. This is largely why I though my comment was appropriate to the “Work is not you family” topic generally. I might be friendly with coworkers at work, partly because we have to work together, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re friends.

          5. Tinker*

            Good news: While we do joke about how we’re all moving out to the country to raise fabulous chickens, queer people actually don’t all mirror each other in all things. Some of us have llamas instead.

          6. Rainy*

            If you think of my queerness as a “lifestyle”, you’re simply not a friend, let alone a true and loyal one.

            I think I’ll take a life with severely diminished homophobia in it, cheers.

          7. DarnTheMan*

            Religion is a lifestyle choice; racial and sexual identity are not. Please do not conflate the two or suggest that anyone who is LGBT is ‘choosing’ to be that way.

          8. Banana Pancakes*

            Thinking being queer is a lifestyle is mutually exclusive with being a good friend to me, a queer person.

        4. FridayFriyay*

          This is a vast overgeneralization. I don’t work at an LGBTQ+ specific organization and easily 60% of my coworkers are queer. Some of them I get along with well, some not so much. I’m sure there are varying experiences here but I’ve never worked at an organization where my queer identity prevented me from making work friendships.

          1. JM60*

            What am I overgeneralizing? Most of us are going to work to make a living. As such, there’s no guarantee that we would get along with our coworkers on a more personal level compared to any random person selected from the general public. Certain types of job may have more or less people from certain demographics, but the general point (that working at the same workplace doesn’t necessarily mean we have shared values and interests) usually stands.

        5. DarnTheMan*

          YMMV on how accepting people in the LGBT+ community can be; I’ve had plenty of people tell me I don’t belong or that my identity/authentic self really shouldn’t be a part of the community. Whereas at work it’s actually less of a concern because I just don’t talk about it. I don’t socialize with my coworkers because I’m not interested in being best friends with people I work with, not because I’m worried they’re secretly anti-LGBT+.

          1. JM60*

            Certainly, people within the LGBT+ community aren’t accepting of others. However, people in the LGBT community, at the very least, are usually much less likely to be homophobic and much more likely to have similar experiences with homophobia (compared to a random sampling of people from the general public).

    3. Momma Bear*

      I think that would be a great alternative way to feel fulfilled and happy.

      Work should also not be the only thing of value in your life or the main source of your friendships. Diversify and you might find more happiness.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Wherever you find it, you will need to make it a priority alongside work. The main way to do that is to limit the hours you work. Unless you need to work more for financial reasons, try to limit work to 40 hours, and only five days a week. Make sure you have a couple of days to rest, recharge, and spend on *yourself*, doing something you want to do that is not related to work.

      If you find that difficult, it may be helpful to spend some time with a therapist on specific strategies. Going in with a really targeted, specific goal like ‘find social connections outside of work’ was the kind of thing my therapist was great at.

    5. Artemesia*

      This. This is your signal to reflect on the kind of community you want to be part of and make that happen. Of course you need to focus on finding a new job and your enthusiasm for the mission may make you a very desirable candidate. But once you accomplish that think about ways to create a ‘family’ of friends – people you hang with often and can help and be helped in turn in times of trouble. And work on creating interest activities outside of work. Maybe this is involvement in a local cultural scene or politics or charitable efforts. But everyone needs a life that has multiple dimensions. If you don’t know where to start, meet up groups in areas you are interested in can help. when I retired and moved to Chicago, a city where I only knew my daughter’s family and no one else, one of the things I did was join meet up book groups, an urban photo group and a group that did weekly neighborhood walks where I got to know the city and meet some other people like myself looking to make friends. 10 years later we have a vibrant social life that has even been sustained through COVID. We have created on zoom movie group of 6 couples (doing Brazil tonight) and a couples book club — plus I am involved in two other book groups. My husband joined a singing group for a few years and we are involved in a small opera company as supporters and participants in activities.

      When we were working we got a lot of our social needs met at work, but even so built activities outside work. When you lose a job or work is not pleasant, it really helps to have a family of friends quite separate from that.

    6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Ah yes I can confirm. The NGO I volunteer at is indeed like a second family. We bond over the cause and the bonds can go very deep.

  2. Archaeopteryx*

    OP what you’re looking for his friends. You can have connections in deep friendships that are every bit as lasting, intimate, and meaningful as those with close family members. Work is not the right place to look for that kind of thing (granted, sometimes you can get lifelong friends blooming from connections with coworkers, but it’s pretty rare). Looking in the wrong places doesn’t mean you’ll never find the thing you look for; it just means you need to start looking in the right places.

    1. chilipeper*

      I think the OP knows that, but we spend a lot of time at work and making friends is hard, harder in some ways than dating. You can literally ask someone on a date but we don’t do that with friendships. They have to grow more organically. I think it is more helpful to point the OP to the “right places” to make friends. Hobbies and volunteer work, as others pointed out, can be good places.

      I think it is also helpful to make a distinction between collegial and friendly relationships at work and friends whom you met at work. There is a big difference and not recognizing that can be a source of trouble. Like the OP expecting work to continue the family relationship when it is really a business one. Or thinking you are friends, not friends at work, leads to more involvement than some want, we see those letters all the time.

      It is not always easy to navigate this, OP, and I wish you the best!

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Because you spend 8 or more hours a day next to coworkers and those are the people you see most often, they can feel like significant relationships. I totally get that. But unless there’s interactions outside work what you have is a superficial work friendship that will disappear when one of you leaves.

      But if you are like me then the work interaction is enough people time in a day and you don’t go looking for more after work. And it hurts to lose work and those work friendships because they were your only one. I’m sorry this happened to you.

      I would suggest you start looking for found family outside work as your job hunting too. But maybe you can call up your one or two favorite coworkers from your old job and have coffee or lunch and see if you can convert that relationship to an actual friendship. I would give some thought if you think you have anything in common with them besides work before you invite them out.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this is so important. Especially if you’re a bit introverted like me, as much as I like my coworkers, I only have cordial professional relationships with them. I get most of the social interaction I need from my family, because I don’t need all that much, if I’m honest. I have a few dear friends that I text with maybe once every two weeks and call once a month, or they’ll call me. I’ll text with my sister and call my parents about once a week as well. This is quite enough for me, and it seems, enough for my friends, to want to stay friends. Before the pandemic, we used to visit my parents about every other weekend (we live in the same town) and my MIL almost as often, and I’d meet up with my friends, or my husband’s friends, on average at least once a month.

        1. Anne*

          I actually noticed who was ACTUALLY a friend once we all switched to WFH. I had very long relationships with coworkers across the org that I interacted with daily socially which involved telling eachother about our families and struggles, but once we were no longer seeing eachother face to face, this completely stopped. We never hung out after work but we were just work friends. The one friend from work who is a true friend I continued to talk to outside of work, so that was that.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    They probably wanted to replace me for someone who treated work like work instead of doing something for the greater good and for a sense of community and family.

    This is such an odd framing that I really want to know more about the actions you took that you saw as being “for the greater good” and “for a sense of community and family”. Because I have to admit, that phrasing gave me serious pause and makes me wonder if you were doing things that were making your colleagues uncomfortable.

    As for your comment about not finding an alternative for feeling like part of a family, I’ll gently suggest that you may want to consider some therapy. It’s possible you are coming across as so desperate to belong to something that you are putting off people who might otherwise be “your people”. My personal experiences with ‘found family’ are that they tend to happen pretty organically when there is some shared interest/value.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, that sentence seemed to imply that “treating work like work” is not what the LW was doing, and I’m curious to know what that means in practice. I guess I think of “treating work like work” as acting professionally, having appropriate boundaries with colleagues, not taking business decisions personally, etc. And I think you can do all of that while still working towards a goal that’s personally meaningful.

      1. Anonymity*

        It’s very off-putting when a colleague wants to push the personal friendship bar too far.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Yes. It’s especially draining when the colleague doesn’t have a frame of reference for healthy friendships.

          I’ve had coworkers who wanted me to be their “family” in a lot of ways that were totally inappropriate to my job. I was not being paid to be a counselor or emotional support system. I was not being paid to validate their egos or alleviate their loneliness/boredom. I had deadlines. I had an inbox in overflow and a to-do list without a bottom. It was month-end and accounting was understaffed. My colleagues felt they couldn’t confide in their bosses, or in HR, and they didn’t have anyone to talk to in their personal lives. So they’d march into my office uninvited, close the door, and start sobbing.

          I can’t know if the OP was doing anything like this, but it’s worth holding up to the light. (On a side-note, these kinds of one-sided relationships and boundary violations are not at all uncommon in “real” families, either — and they’re just as unhealthy.)

      2. TootsNYC*

        also, “treating work like work” is, to me, about accompishing work goals and work tasks. If someone is focusing on the social aspect at the expense of the tasks, that would be a problem.
        We can’t see what was going on, though.

        1. allathian*

          Oh yeah, absolutely. Sure, I appreciate being in an environment where we can talk about other stuff as well as work, but it should be as well as, not instead of…

      3. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I’m also wondering what those who were at work for the paycheck rather than for some nebulous passion for the mission thought about the LW’s attitude. It might come as rather judgmental if you aren’t as dedicated to the cause…

      4. Kit*

        This is how I read it. That they were overstepping professional boundaries and potentially ignoring their coworkers’ hints that they wanted to keep their relationships purely work related.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah. I actually tend to be put off by “we’re like family!” workplaces (but then again I’m privileged to have family and friends). That’s just not what I look for in a professional environment, and it would make me uncomfortable to have a coworker respond to me that way because I wouldn’t reciprocate. I’ve worked with people I liked and respected and enjoyed working with or spending social time with (I’ve made friends at work), but I didn’t and wouldn’t consider them to be like family.

      1. ThatGirl*

        My new job (just hit 2 months) likes to promote themselves as a family, and I gotta be honest, after so many warnings here I was skeptical. But it’s a pretty big company that’s been around a long time, and what most people seem to mean by that is “we put people before profits and care about our employees”. Even so, I am gonna be interested to see what happens when we’re back in an office — I am the kind of person who is typically friendly with coworkers and enjoys her job, but I don’t want to socialize after or outside of work (at least not very often), nor have I ever considered coworkers like family, and only a select few have moved on to being real true friends.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          “we put people before profits and care about our employees” is what “we’re like a family” SHOULD mean for a workplace. That’s the ideal.

          It’s just that too often it means “we’re boundary-violating nightmares, which we do under the guise of caring.”

          I really hope your workplace is getting it right!

      2. accountingnerd*

        I don’t like workplaces that say they’re like family either. I interviewed at a bank once, where the ABM told me that the bank’s employees are “like family” and they were going to hold a huge graduation party for one of their head tellers who will be graduating from business school in the future. Luckily, I didn’t get the job. That’s a little too close for me. I like my space, and I give people their space while being friendly and professional.
        For me, I would rather have a simple congratulations when I graduate with my bachelors in accounting. My party will be for myself and my family, not coworkers.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I get you. Although to be fair, my team used to organize birthday parties at the office. It was pretty low key, though, mainly coffee and cake. When one of our former interns graduated with a Master’s, we held a party for her as well.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “Luckily, I didn’t get the job.”
          Er, you could have refused had they made an offer. Unless you were desperate at that point of course.

      3. Rachel in NYC*

        I have a ‘close’ office but by close, I mean we have a office zoom chat where people are currently posting their pandemic tv/streaming watching habits.

        And in normal times, we might go out for a happy hour or meal that we organize ourselves but every once in a while.

        We honestly like each other but we all honestly have lives. And commutes.

        1. The Original K.*

          Yep – that’s what I mean by work friends. That’s pleasant, and it’s nice to work with people who get along (working with people who don’t get along sucks). I used to work somewhere that had a Slack channel called “treats,” and people would post stuff like “there’s cake on the second floor” or “it’s restaurant week, here are the places around the office that have prix fixe menus, anybody want to go to lunch on Tuesday?” I had a work friend that I talked Project Runway with each week. That’s cool! And if people I work with become friends, that’s cool too – I became friends with someone I worked with because I would see her in the gym nearby after work, which turned into working out together, which turned into grabbing dinner after working out. We were at the same place in our lives (20somethings, no kids), and we had the common interest so it evolved organically. But she’s not family. That wasn’t my whole life.

      4. Not family*

        I dislike the whole “we’re family” thing because not everyone likes their family or wants to be around them! I have a fraught relationship with my family which culminated in finally estranging myself from them in 2019. I don’t want my employer to be like family…I’d rather like my co-workers and feel respected (which is not something I got from my actual family).

        My ex-job would use the family line, and I cringed inside every time.

    3. Rebaroni*

      This was so odd. I don’t know what happened to OP’s job, but perhaps they have other blind spots and wild misinterpretations of things? Maybe the writting was on the wall and they just didn’t read it.
      I’m not trying to be mean, I myself have been in a similar position.

    4. WellRed*

      Such an odd framing! Is OP also walking for miles lugging equipment, denying themselves raises and free pizza for the good of the company?

      1. Allie*

        I was also reminded of that letter. Did LW shame colleagues for not being as dedicated to the cause? Because, yes, that could lead to not being asked back.

      2. Esmeralda*

        That’s mean — it’s being flippant about someone who wrote in who’s in real pain. I think you could make the same point with kindness instead.

        1. KAT*

          I disagree. This LW is giving off the same vibe as that LW, particularly with their view of how work should be. And some of the phrasing in the letter does make me wonder what they were doing with regard to work being “for the greater good and for a sense of community and family.”

    5. TootsNYC*

      I feel like the OP has seen a flaw in herself due to Alison’s article, and is using that to beat herself up. She’s got a round peg now, thanks to that article, and she’s trying to stuff it into the triangular hole of “why they didn’t bring me back.”

      It’s a form of catastrophic thinking. And it’s not helpful, because it’s just not grounded in reality; it’s grounded in the urge to flog herself.

      1. MK*

        Eh, I didn’t get this impression at all, if anything the opposite, the OP sounds as if they are feeling martyred and finding fault with their employer for not appreciating their values.

    6. TWW*

      I think most people understand “like family” to be simile, not a literal truth.

      I can see how it would be offputting to have a coworker or employee who literally treated their coworkers as family members.

    7. hbc*

      Yes, and when you combine it with “I suppose I’m an idealist in thinking that everyone should be working because they love their job,” I’m thinking of a couple of workaholics I know who were…not great colleagues. I’ve had lovely colleagues who live to work, and then I’ve had those couple who live to work *and* look down on those who want to take their legally mandated breaks.

      OP, it doesn’t have to be overt, but if you were projecting less “Work is my life!” and more “Work should be your life!,” it might have been a difficult for your coworkers to feel entirely comfortable with you.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        …and if LW was projecting “work should be your life, with virtually no concern for money!” I’m glad LW is doing some excellent self-reflection; this very thought process has driven some very weird letters to this very site.

      2. allathian*

        Absolutely. I know I wouldn’t want to work with anyone who thought work should be my life. I guess I’m lucky in that my organization prides itself on work-life balance to the point that it’s one of our 5 core values. Someone who worked excessively long hours for more than a few weeks during the busy season at my org would probably get an invite to a 1:1 with their manager to discuss their workload, and if that didn’t help, a request to take advantage of our EAP, and if that didn’t help, a mandatory early intervention program would be initiated to ensure that the employee doesn’t burn out. It would take months to get to this point, though.

    8. kittymommy*

      We recently went through something similar where I’m at. Greater good = not getting proof of insurance and contracts signed and placing the organization in serious jeopardy for liability.

    9. Observer*

      They probably wanted to replace me for someone who treated work like work instead of doing something for the greater good and for a sense of community and family.

      This is such an odd framing that I really want to know more about the actions you took that you saw as being “for the greater good” and “for a sense of community and family”. Because I have to admit, that phrasing gave me serious pause and makes me wonder if you were doing things that were making your colleagues uncomfortable.

      Yeah, that stood out to me as well. The letter that Alison links to is a pretty extreme example but this language sounds like it could have come from that letter writer.

      Forget your employer for a moment – that’s not healthy FOR YOU. And you are totally entitled to do that which is healthy for you! That’s not a contradiction to wanting to improve the greater good. It’s the whole “put on your oxygen mask first” thing. If you don’t take care of yourself and set appropriate boundaries, it’s going to hurt you.

    10. Anne*

      Yes. The attitude is a little alarming if this is reflecting in thought or action with the OP’s coworkers. It seems like it comes from a very strong place of emotional attachment and so it wouldn’t surprise me if it leaked out into the OP’s actual interactions with coworkers.

    11. Hell in a Handbasket*

      I felt similarly about, “everyone should be working because they love their job and not just for financial rewards.” Incredibly naive at best, pretty damn elitist at worst.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    If you want to build reliable, long-lasting connections with people, you need to turn to people you know by *intentional choice*, not random chance. Coworkers and family are in your life by chance. If I got to pick the people in those two categories, my life would look so much different.

    The workplace is transactional so expecting anything beyond that is setting yourself up for disappointment.

    1. oranges*

      Yes, coworkers especially are literally being paid to be in your life. Some blossom into real, meaningful relationships, but it’s not an expectation of the transaction.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Exactly. Even in circumstances when you develop real friendships with your colleagues, there’s often still a part of that relationship that’s influenced by the fact that they’re paid to be in your life and that they need to maintain a healthy professional relationship with you regardless of how they feel about you as a friend. It’s not exactly that you can’t trust that your work friendships are real, but you can’t set the same boundaries that you would in a friendship built entirely on intentional choice and that matters.

    2. Cat Tree*

      It’s really hard to make new friends once you’re out of school, so I see where OP is coming from. But it’s better in the long run to make that effort to meet people outside of work and based on common interest. It’s not easy but it’s worth the effort.

      1. Not family*

        It’s really hard when people don’t try. OP declared her colleagues as family, instead of investing the time and effort it takes to build friendships.

  5. jj*

    I agree with Alison and others that your framing of why you got let go is probably off. But I just wanted to come through and say, I see you, and I am sorry this happened. It is extremely hard to not really have family, and a lot of people who family can’t grasp that huge gulph that lies between “a small family” and “not much family.”

    Therapy and friends will certainly help, but the flippant tone of some comments, to me, seems a bit harsh, or from people who may not really get what your facing. Therapy alone will certainly not replace having a family. Friends can, but if they themselves have their own families, it can take a long, long time to have the sorts of friendship where you genuinely feel like family too. I understand what you mean about wanting a community feeling. I think that the advice to find this in community organizations, volunteering, religious groups, etc is probably a smart one, because those groups are very unlikely to remove you unless you are acting inappropriate.

    I am sending you love and good wishes across the internet. I hope in a few years time, you’ll be able to look back on this and see more love in your life, from more stable, and reliable places <3

    1. NerdyKris*

      Therapy can, however, help you to understand what is and isn’t a healthy place to fill those needs. LW is already using work to fill the need for family, it’s not unreasonable to be worried that they might fall into another scenario where they’re expecting emotional fulfillment from an inappropriate place. Person From The Resume mentioned LGBQT seeking found families up above, and that’s a scenario where the need for a new family after being rejected sometimes allows abusive or boundary violating individuals to take advantage. Therapy helps you set boundaries and understand what is and isn’t reasonable, so LW doesn’t end up in another scenario where they’re expecting emotional support from the wrong place.

    2. TootsNYC*

      we also get to know colleagues so very well. We’re around them regularly; we see them in difficult situations and good ones; we go through hardships together; we achieve goals together. Those are all very powerful bonding experiences. We reveal ourselves to one another at work in ways we don’t with friends.

      It’s hard to do that with friends from outside!

    3. Observer*

      Therapy alone will certainly not replace having a family.

      Therapy won’t replace family, and it’s a mistake to try to use it that way. Therapy CAN provide tools to help create “found family”, cope with the lack of family, and deal with the limitations of relationships that feel like they are family but really aren’t (eg work relationships). That last one is important, because if you place too much on a relationship it tends to collapse or turn toxic. If you can see it for what it is, you can gain benefits even if it’s not everything you want and need.

      I think that the advice to find this in community organizations, volunteering, religious groups, etc is probably a smart one, because those groups are very unlikely to remove you unless you are acting inappropriate.

      Yes, this is good advice.

    4. Tinker*

      “I think that the advice to find this in community organizations, volunteering, religious groups, etc is probably a smart one, because those groups are very unlikely to remove you unless you are acting inappropriate.”

      However also: endeavor not to test that last clause, because inconsistent performance on that point is… not unknown. He said, as a currently inactive (for the Duration) larper who is staring into the middle distance reflecting on having Seen Some Shit.

    5. Anon for this*

      I think this is a very kind and insightful comment.

      One thing that the pandemic has really thrown into relief for me is the gap between friends and coworkers who have families and … Me. I’m single with no children (by choice but still) and I have a very small family of origin with whom I don’t have a particularly close relationship. The isolation of the pandemic and extended WFH has been incredibly difficult. Not only that, but options for meeting people and thus reducing that isolation have been restricted.

      I am blessed with very good friends and I am comfortable in my own company, but I don’t have the intimacy and mutual nurturing outside of work that virtually everyone I work with seems to have. I know that their family lives are likely not as perfect as they may seem, but they still have them.

      I don’t believe I am trying to use work to fill this gap but I can very much understand why someone might. It’s difficult to grasp the impact of loneliness from the outside.

  6. Jennifer*

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. I don’t know where you are in the world but I think it may have hit you harder bc we are in a pandemic and some of us are getting most of our social interactions at work.

    It might be a good idea after you are vaccinated to start taking a yoga class or some other kind of class outside of work on the same day and time each week. Or any other activity you can think of that can create that sense of community.

  7. AnonEMoose*

    I look at it this way: Work is not my life. Work is what I do so I can have my life.

    Don’t misunderstand: I like my job very much, and I’m good at it. But I recognize that it’s a business relationship.

    I get my emotional fulfillment from my personal relationships and my hobbies: for example, I volunteer for a local science fiction convention and have met a lot of amazing people through that. I like to read, I like to learn new things, and so on.

    For me, it’s a healthier balance than investing so much in my paid job. I am admittedly a bit cynical about the “you should love your work” mindset, because to my way of thinking, it benefits the employer much more than it does the employee. But, if you happen to be one of those fortunate people, that can be an amazing thing, too! For example, I recall one of my professors in college who was a well-regarded researcher, but he also enjoyed teaching and was good at it. Good for him, good for the university, good for his students! I just think that situation is less common than some people would have everyone believe.

    1. Cat Tree*

      I actually love my job and I’m good at it, but ultimately if they stopped paying me I would stop working.

      I also like my company and they really prioritize employee retention. That means high salaries and bonuses, extra paid holidays, 401k matching, and paid parental leave that keeps getting expanded every few years. But ultimately, they’re not doing it to be nice. They’re doing it because it benefits them to keep me and others around. I’m sure that most people making these decisions are genuinely caring people, and I don’t feel adversarial towards my company. But I know that if it made business sense to lay me off, they would do it. It’s still a transaction, but one that is currently benefitting both sides. And that’s ok.

      1. allathian*

        I feel this so much. I definitely work to live rather than live to work. I wouldn’t work for free either, but I must admit that I like the feeling of contributing to something that’s greater than any individual. I work in the public sector, and one reason for that is that I can’t bear the idea of helping to make rich people even richer through my efforts…

  8. Jennifer*

    Also, once you are working again, see if you can turn some of those work friendships into actual friendships. Invite folks to coffee or lunch and see if something sticks.

  9. The Original K.*

    I echo the other comments about looking for “found family,” real connections, in hobbies or friends. You have a passion for your work and that’s great, but more often than not, the work relationships end when the … work relationships end. Can you join a hobby club? Volunteer?

    Also, the idea that everyone should love their job is just not realistic. Sometimes (especially in tough times like the one we’re in now), you just take a job because you need a job. You do the job, the employer gives you money, and that’s that. Or you take a job because it offers a benefit you want or need, or you take a job because the hours aren’t demanding and that frees up space for the rest of your life, which is where you find your fulfillment. All of these are perfectly valid approaches to work.

  10. Beth*

    OP, you say that the idea that work can’t be your family “has left [you] lost, feeling like I can’t trust anyone and that I’ll never get that feeling of true connection anywhere in my life.” I want to speak to that for a second, because that sounds like it’s really weighing on you, and I think your odds of finding what you want are actually better than you’re thinking.

    It’s absolutely possible to find family-type relationships outside the realm of blood relations. Marriage is maybe the most common form of this, and the most societally recognized, but ‘found family’ is a thing in platonic relationships as well. It can grow out of romances, friendships, mentorships, basically any place where you’re interacting with people on an interpersonal level. (This is what makes work not ideal for it; a lot of work relationships are based more on business needs than personal connection.)

    You can’t force it to happen. It’s more of a ‘stumble into it’ kind of deal, and even when it does happen, it takes time. But if you keep meeting people and making friends and following up on connections over time, I bet you’ll eventually find people you click with in that way. Do you have any activities you do, other than work, where you see the same people over and over? If not, I highly recommend getting some—whether it’s joining a basketball league, volunteering at a nursing home, finding a game store with a D&D night, taking an art class, etc. Whatever appeals to you and gets you seeing people often enough to forge connections is good.

  11. KHB*

    I don’t have much to add except that you can be committed to the mission of your work, love what you do, and also be in it for the money. I get a lot of emotional fulfillment out of my work, but at the end of the day it’s still work – I do it because I get paid, and if I didn’t get paid, I wouldn’t do it. The fulfillment is a bonus on top of the money, not the other way around.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yep. This. I think getting too invested in your work/workplace/coworkers just sets you up for frustration and disappointment, honestly.

      1. Psammead*

        Yup! I love my job. It’s interesting and engaging, my team are great and in normal circumstances has a lot of cool travel. I also love that they value me enough to pay me a good wage. It makes the fact that I spend a lot of time tired or away from my partner, pets and friends much more worth it because I can invest in nice things when I am with them

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yup, this is me. Really enjoy my work, I get to make a difference, enjoy my coworkers…and would be out of here so fast if my paycheck didn’t come in because the paycheck is what I can exchange for housing and sustenance.

    3. BubbleTea*

      Yes, absolutely. I love my job. It is also emotionally draining, exhausting, and there is no way that I would be doing it for the number of hours a week I work if I weren’t paid. Equally, I would not do something I didn’t enjoy for this salary – I’m not badly paid but it isn’t big money either. You need enough of both for balance!

    4. Willis*

      This. so. much. Also, you can care about what you do, be committed, feel emotionally fulfilled by the ultimate outcome, and also feel frustrated/annoyed/etc. at various points of the process. Money is a particularly good motivator to get me showing up at those points.

    5. Maggie*

      Agreed. I like my job but I wouldn’t do it for free! Financial ‘reward’ is a funny way of putting it. It’s an ‘absolute financial NEED’ to make money to live.

    6. Cat Tree*

      As much fulfillment as I get from doing my job (and it’s a lot), I get more fulfillment from providing for my family and myself.

    7. allathian*

      Yeah, absolutely. I really like my employer, my coworkers and my boss, but I wouldn’t spend 8 hours a day working if I didn’t get paid.

  12. NYC Taxi*

    Unless you were doing things that annoyed or made people uncomfortable with your quest for “doing something for the greater good and for a sense of community and family” getting let go is purely a business decision. Numbers don’t care if you see your job as family. Work is business. Sorry that you were disappointed by your job. But your job is the place where you go to work to get paid so you have a comfortable life. For the employer you’re a person they hired to do a job and (hopefully) compensate you fairly for it. That’s it.

    Your coworkers aren’t your family, some may become friends, but they aren’t your tribe. If you’re looking for your tribe then get involved in activities you enjoy – that’s how you find your people.

    1. EPLawyer*

      This is why business should not be “family.” They will let you go in a heartbeat — as LW learned — if it makes business sense. But you can’t “fire” family. Well you can, but that’s a different letter.

  13. Bookworm*

    I can somewhat relate, OP. The job wasn’t a family but I joined an org that I thought would finally invest in me, be interested in my progress, etc. for an employee for however long. The org went through a series of changes where the original group I was hired into was absorbed into the larger entity and this team disappeared via departures with people increasingly unhappy with the direction plus a few people just getting new jobs. I loved the work in itself and found my fit but it turned into another “job” where it was more important to churn out projects and sacrificing the investment in employees that made it so.

    I wish I had an answer for you. I personally shy away from the family-type workplaces but do want to love or at least appreciate my work for some “greater” purpose than just say paper pushing or something that doesn’t have results that have meaning to me or someone else. The closest is that sometimes you have to gauge who you’re working for and with and how much power they have (in my case, my immediate supervisors are the ones I liked but they only had so much leeway and eventually it became too exhausting to be continuously battling higher ups all the time). It can be hard to find but if you can find it can make things so much easier.

    Good luck.

  14. Goddess47*

    Something similar happened to me, pre-pandemic. I thought I was part of a high-functioning family — we were contractors and I knew the client would be laying someone off but was totally blind-sided when it was me.

    I got lucky that I was in a position to retire (although about two years earlier that I had planned) and, with time away from the situation, I realized I wasn’t working as hard as I could or as well as I could. That was a painful realization and I’m now glad that it was me, who was in a financially sound situation, rather than someone who wasn’t in as good of a situation as I was.

    I’ve moved on to working on making new friends, which as an adult is *very* hard. I joined some local groups and Meet-Up communities to make sure I got out of the house, but that all died when Covid happened. I’m lucky I had some online kinda-friends that I have become closer with during the pandemic.

    I keep in touch with a couple of folk I worked with but they’re stressed by the client and some are in precarious situations since the contract that I worked under is ending and will not be renewed. There is little to no information coming from the client to the contractors and while the positions are critical (we were an outsourced IT department), there’s a lot of nail-biting on what will happen. At this point, I’m glad to be out of that situation and can only wish them well.

    So. I hate to use the adage “all things happen for a reason” but that’s all you can hang on to. Look for new acquaintances, and realize that you have to spend time with a person to turn them into a friend… it’s not an instant process and you need to be patient with yourself and them.

    Good luck to you!

  15. Person from the Resume*

    everyone should be working because they love their job and not just for financial rewards.

    This comes from a very privileged place. Who would clean public restrooms, work in fast food, or basically any sort of low paying retail job where customers treat employees terribly if people are only supposed to do work that they love? Not many people. The vast majority of people do work in order to get money to pay for their life.

    I’m betting you were doing some sort of non-profit work. While you’re looking for new work, keep in mind it’s great if you can find a job you love, but finding a job that pays the bills and healthcare and other benefits is the most important thing. You might even find it freeing if at the end of the day, you can leave it behind and hang out with non-work friends.

    1. Allie*

      My grandfather quit his well paying union factory job to work at a church. Sure he found personal fulfillment, but his family went hungry. My mom felt like he chose his religion over his kids.

      I love my job but my first obligation is to my kid and making sure he has food and clothes. The money my job pays me ensures that.

      1. James*

        I think it can be both, and for a certain type of person it has to be, but the trick is to remember it has to be BOTH. If you focus on the vocational aspect more than the “making money to feed my family” aspect, you’re going to run into trouble. I do work I believe in, at a job I love, in order to put food on my children’s table; there’s no sacrifice. If I did a job I don’t love it would eat at me, and if I didn’t get paid my kids would go hungry and that would eat at me. Either way I’d last about three years.

        One thing someone with my mentality can do is do other jobs while working towards their ideal. I’ve worked as a fry cook, as a cashier, operated analytical equipment, sexed fish, and several times was literally paid to be a check in a box (under strict orders to do nothing that interfered with the people doing the real work), all while working to get to the track I’m on. You’re not giving up your goals, you’re merely taking a round-about path to them.

    2. Just no*

      I always cringe so hard when I see statements about how “everyone” should love their job. People don’t work in factory farms or janitorial services because they love it. They work there because they almost always have no other option — and even then, they usually can’t make ends meet without adding a second crappy job at another equally horrible location. OP, I encourage you to read a little more broadly on this topic so that you can get a different perspective on the place of work in a person’s life.

      “Nickel and Dimed” is a good start, but there are tons of other great books like it.

      1. Former Employee*

        Thank you for mentioning “Nickel and Dimed” which I think is about the best book to open the eyes of anyone who is lucky enough not to have to live that way.

        I also liked that you didn’t use the word “privileged”, which I think is very off putting. I always use the word “lucky” instead.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      OP, it would serve you well to let go of this notion that people should looove their jobs. I have been through times in my life where I worked two or three jobs. It’s because I had to.

      Not everyone is having your experiences, OP. You have had the luxury of picking something you wanted and actually getting it. This happens to very few people.

      Just about 40 years ago I entered the job of my life. It was everything to me. While I did not get into that family feeling aspect of things, this job meant the world to me. It took me 8 years to get out of it. I kept waiting for it to morph into something of substance. I tolerated way too much because I loved the work. I put up with rampant sexism, 10 cent an hour raises, muscle work that would make even an athletic person keel over, and on and on.
      One day I gave myself a firm talking to and just like the person who bangs their head against the wall and wonders why it hurts so much, I realized had to stop working there. It hurt too much to realize I was going no where after all I put into this job.

      Lessons learned:
      I gave too much. I worked when I was beyond exhausted. I put up with being laid off for the season when people junior to me were not laid off, and many other examples.

      I demanded too little and accepted too little- raises, training, responsibilities.

      And the worst one and this applies to you, OP- the job was of more value to me than I was to the employer. I created that one. I put this employer up on a pedestal.

      In the end, I decided never, ever again would I let a place mean so much to me. It’s almost a recipe for disaster as you have learned in your own life. Initially, this decision gutted me, I felt a huge sense of loss. My trust was broken, eh, I kind of sounded like you do here.

      No place is worthy of this level of trust, OP. And in fairness, not many places can make good on filling that level of trust. It’s okay to think about your own self-interests. It’s okay to put yourself first, especially in rubber meeting the road situations. It’s okay if a place lays you off to go look for a new job, rather than wait for them to call you back. Matter of fact, it will serve you well if you ever face a lay off again that you just assume the job is gone and job hunt with all your might.

      For the immediate, sit down and have a good cry. Get it out into the open. Then decide that the next place is going to be different in some manner. I decided better pay and better hours. I targeted those two things. The next place had set hours and I doubled my pay plus a little. Pick what attributes your next place will have that this one did not have.

      I still used whatever job I had, to help people however I could. I never let go of that part of me. I never gave up my sincerity in caring. I am just more careful about how I use that sincerity.

      1. Observer*

        I still used whatever job I had, to help people however I could. I never let go of that part of me

        This is a crucial thing. No matter what you do, as long as what you are doing is basically ethical, you can still help the greater good to some degree or other. Some jobs make it easier than others, but you don’t have to extinguish that part of yourself.

    4. Observer*

      Who would clean public restrooms, work in fast food, or basically any sort of low paying retail job where customers treat employees terribly if people are only supposed to do work that they love?

      Even if people were treated with the dignity they deserve, these are jobs that people would not normally do just for the love of it. Why would they? Cleaning restrooms is honest and useful work. But it’s just not reasonable to expect people to do that for the love of the work, even though one would hope that a person gets satisfaction from doing something useful.

  16. Dust Bunny*

    “They probably wanted to replace me for someone who treated work like work instead of doing something for the greater good and for a sense of community and family.”

    I don’t think you’ve processed this yet. You’re still trying to frame this as a family relationship that betrayed you and not as a work relationship in which it’s normal to sometimes let people go. You can’t be more committed to your job than your employer is to you. I love my job and I really like my coworkers, but we are not social friends. I have other friends for that.

    I don’t have a big social circle and don’t have any surefire alternatives to suggest, but I said this awhile back to a LW who had a crush on her supervisor: Work is not a substitute for social interaction. It might seem easier and more efficient to combine the two but it’s just not, as you’re in the process of finding out. You just *have* to find the time, energy, and will to go out and do things that don’t involve coworkers.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I mean to include: I have no idea, of course, why they let you go, but personal emotional investment =\= fit for a position. It won’t make up for not having the skills they need or being hard on your coworkers. And even if you were doing really well there is a point beyond which being really identified with the job doesn’t help the work any more than just doing the work well. I don’t get extra points at work for being a hopeless history fiend (I work in a research library); I only get them for the work I actually get done and do appropriately to the task at hand. The fact that I could extrapolate for miles is irrelevant.

  17. Double A*

    I have a vocation that’s definitely motivated by a love for the mission, though I don’t always love the work. But I would not do it for free! At one point, I actually put a monetary amount on the good feelings I get from my job, and estimated it at about $10,000/year. That is, I accept about $10k less a year because I appreciate having a job that feels meaningful to me.

    Though I have to say, as I get older, I’m getting more tired of feeling idealistic about my job and think about what it would be like to do a job just for the money.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      My father started out very young (22, freshly graduated) in our state’s department of corrections. If you want to talk about a life-sucking job… but the huge benefit was the insurance, ability to rollover vacation, etc. He did that job for 25 years because he was able to take care of his family, even if it meant he was a little miserable…a little paranoid… and VERY worn out.

      Then when he was 47, he was eligible to retire. He could have kept working and waited to retire so that he could reap more benefits, but he realized he was miserable and it was making his family miserable because it was difficult to enjoy his company, even when he was “off.” So he retired and was able to find enjoyment and occupation with one of his hobbies instead. He is a totally different person now (and a lot more fun!).

      To build on what you said, I think it’s about balance. You can love your job and be stressed about how much that $10k would mean for family finances… and then find yourself loving your job less because of that. I’ve definitely stayed at my job because I like the environment here better than I think I would at other, more corporate-types of jobs.

      So the lesson I really learned from my dad’s situation is to find the balance between joy and financial security!

  18. I Love Llamas*

    I am so sorry for the loss you are feeling. I spent most of my working life finding much of my identity and “friendships” through my work. Not a good idea. When I was fired from a 10-year job due to a new manager, I realized that it is all about the numbers for my industry. I then went to work for a former manager and thought we had a partnership. We didn’t. I was a revenue stream. All of this to say that your social fulfillment is better when you create it outside of work. It will last longer and not be contingent upon your employment. I am not saying to avoid having friends at work, but let that just be a bonus. Good luck to you!

  19. Oldie Hawn*

    This is why we need “church” for non-religious people or folks who aren’t into organized religion. Church is a place you can go and be part of a community. I know plenty of people who’ve been helped or helped others through extremely hard times via church communities–it can be a lifesaver. I am no longer religious myself but something like church that wasn’t organized around spirituality would be pretty cool. I mean why not beer church, or ice cream church, or ‘we love dogs’ church? In lieu of this, hopefully post COVID there will be community or volunteer groups like Allison suggested. My heart goes out to you, OP.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      Non-employment and non-religious activity can be almost anything that a person finds interesting: bird watching, animal shelters, breed rescues or plain old mutt rescues (fostering, caring for animals in transition, community outreach to potential new families for the animals), team sports, individual sports that can be done with a group (walking, hiking, running…), dance, community orchestras or theater groups…historic preservation of one building or an entire area…
      Community action can be done on a spectrum ranging from activity-enjoying (community gardening) to cause-focused (the local Don’t Build That Highway Here! group). Some folks love plain old political activity; others run like mad in the other direction.
      Okay, enough random suggestions here, but OP I hope you find something that makes you happy and brings connections with other people. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen all at once. If you’re enjoying the activity for its own sake while hoping to make connections, that’s also good.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, indeed. Someone who’s desperate for friendship will more often than not drive away most genuinely nice people and attract those who are looking to take advantage of a needy person. So it’s really important to find an activity that you (general you) enjoy for its own sake rather than something you only do because it might help you to find a friend.

      1. JSPA*

        While Unitarianism is unusually open to people of many faiths, it is still a religious institution derived from the Christian tradition (albeit one that does not incorporate the concept of a divine Christ, nor require members to have or to declare their faith in a deity, let alone a specific version of that deity).

        The other institutions you mention generally have a closed membership (one applies to join, or is invited) and dues, which is quite different from the “all are welcome” model of many religions.

        From the Rotarians: “Rotarian membership is by invitation only. You can be invited to join the club by someone who is already a member, or you can start attending a few meetings before filling out your own Prospective Member Form.”

        From the Elks: “To be eligible for membership in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, you must be a citizen of the United States over the age of 21 who believes in God.”

        1. Disabled anon*

          Different UU congregations have different takes on faith. My pastor keeps things super agnostic but I’ve listened to pastors in other congregations who are much closer to regular Christianity. (Our church leadership is also very LGBTQ+ friendly but I suspect that varies… we’re in California.)

          1. JSPA*

            The tone varies greatly, but I don’t think I’ve heard tell of any that’re not open & affirming (at least on paper, though of course individual tendencies of people to have mental reservations, or to mean well yet put their foot in it, vary everywhere).

            And even those that are tonally / stylically more mainstream christian are per doctrine open to those who are questioning / agnostic / functionally atheistic but devoted to good works and community / affiliated with some non-christian religion or religious tradition, but drawn to Unitarianism for whatever reason.

            And, (thanks, google!) “CUUPS was chartered by the Unitarian Universalist Association at the General Assembly in 1987.” (That’s the pagans covenant within unitarianism.)

            Let’s see… here’s one from the North Hills of Pittsburgh (not a particularly radical neighborhood by any yardstick I know of): “We come from a variety of faith backgrounds Because of that, we understand that we do need not think alike to love alike. We are people of many beliefs and backgrounds. Some members have a religious background and others do not. Some members believe in a God, and others don’t, and still, others are uncertain. As a congregation of the UUA, we are Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, atheist and agnostic, believers in God, and more.” So, no, not a “left coast” thing at all.

            But it’s still a religion. It may and it does provide what many people who have left more restrictive faith traditions seek. It may and it does provide a place for people who want to have the faith-community experience and do good works, to do so. “It plays well with others,” extremely broadly. But (not inappropriately, for a religion!) there’s still a baseline “god’s grace” attitude, whether or not it’s phrased in terms of deity. I suspect in almost any area the UU trends more open to anyone who wants to be there than many of the supposedly primarily secular and supposedly now integrated and supposedly now open-to-women Fraternal Organizations.

            Though on the other hand, I’ve heard rumors of some…let’s call them friendly takovers…of individual branches of defunct or near defunct fraternal organizations, to become extremely open and welcoming in all ways. So I don’t want to discount any of that out-of-hand.

            OP might indeed find a welcome framework in any of them.

      2. Sugaree*

        Check in with people in your area before joining the Elks. I’m sure they are making strides to distance from their segregated past, but in my area (Midwest US) their groups are still VERY racist.

    2. Sleepless*

      Wouldn’t that be amazing? I don’t miss one single thing about my time in evangelical churches, except the community. I belonged to a community where people had an identity and others who really cared about them, if it sometimes was subject to some really strange societal rules. I would love to have that again.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I miss the singing from evangelical church…although I’ve never made an effort to find a choir or anything like that. I think maybe it was the “bad” singing that I liked. You could totally blend into the group and be horrible…as long as you didn’t sing too loud!

    3. Properlike*

      I’m an atheist, and I *totally* get what you’re saying. Fandom is a place for this, too.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, fandom is absolutely the place of this. A couple of different fandoms really helped me a lot in my late 20s and early 30s when I was single while most of my friends were in relationships and not available to hang out as often as I wanted to hang out with them. Granted, these fandoms were all online and I’ve only met a couple of people in person that I got to know through fandom. This was in the early 00s when internet forums were the big thing rather than social media. I even became a mod at a couple (now defunct) fandom forums. At the time, I committed myself to these heart and soul, and I was pretty upset when they ceased to exist. Although to be fair, by the time they did go offline, I was already in a relationship with my husband, and my commitment to them was far less than it had been. But it was truly the end of an era.

      2. armchairexpert*

        I’m an atheist and I have never really understood fandoms and this made SUCH a huge lightbulb go off for me! Thank you.

        (Now to find my version…)

    4. AE*

      I definitely attend the church of “we love dogs.”

      Other folks have good suggestions, and I’ll also point out that a lot of Mutual Aid groups have sprung up since the onset of the pandemic (though Mutual Aid is a pretty old concept). There are a lot of opportunities for organizing and for receiving/giving different kinds of aid and support to/from one’s community members, if that’s something you’re interested in. For me, it’s helped me get to know my neighbors better, as well as interact with a lot of different people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

      If you attended college/university, you might also check if your school has a local alumni group.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      I have my college alumnae and hobby groups (one in particular). One of my hobby groups, I got into the hobby and through FB have become online friends with people whose names I was seeing in hobby magazines in the mid-1980s. And they’re cool people, and we talk about all kinds of things other than the hobby. I so admired their work when I was a kid and now we’re sharing silly memes and talking each other through health crises. It’s . . . surreal.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      I’m not much of a “joiner” myself, but I do see a need for a non-religious community. There ARE some things such as volunteering groups, societies and the like, but a person sort of has to decide what type of community they’re into (nature, animals, health, etc). I think at one point the Atheist organization was trying to create something like you speak of (a congregation without the religion that discusses ethics and big life issues) but unfortunately they tend to be attacked for trying to create groups like this. It’s sad that many in America don’t understand atheism and what it really means.

    7. Not family*

      There are plenty of options to join groups like Meetup. It takes a bit of effort but so does everything.

  20. Akcipitrokulo*

    I like what I do. At last job, I loved it, and some people there (that are still friends). Yeah, I’m lucky!

    It’s still a JOB. I do it for the money. If I came into enough cash, I’d put in my notice tomorrow.

    Business arrangements regarding employment can be (and should be, imo) pleasant, mutually beneficial and friendly. And always, always, a business arrangement. That’s all.

    I am sorry you are having a hard time with this, and that you lost your job of course.

  21. achoos*

    “How do I meet new people and make new friends?” is a really, really common question in the weekend open threads (pre-Covid), and this letter falls into that theme. Our society encourages people to move away from home, first to college and then for jobs. Sometimes we are have family near us, but a lot of us don’t- either by choice or chance. We really don’t have the social safety nets. It’s not uncommon for work to start to fill the social voids.

    In my first professional position, I tried very hard to make friends outside of the college at which I worked. But I lived in a rural area where social life outside of campus revolved around church and children. I joined clubs, took classes at the Y, volunteered- and while I met many people, I only became friends with one of them. Over time, I settled for making friends who worked at the same college as me but not in my department. It was either that or start having kids (no thanks) or join a church (no thanks).

    Work can’t be family, and ideally it’s not your everything. Sometimes, though, it’s really, really hard to keep those boundaries.

  22. Anonymity*

    Work is work. It’s situational relationships and never family. Volunteering may fill the void.

  23. Cendol*

    Hey OP! I was in the same boat. I treated a past employer like it was my parents–which meant that I was afraid to ask for time off, often worked late, and burned myself the heck out trying to win the love and approval of a Faceless Corporate Entity. That worked out about as well as you might imagine.

    Sending sympathy, but also seconding what numerous commenters have already said here: what you’re looking for are friends! It’s trickier these days since so many interactions have moved online, and I know how scary it feels to put yourself out there emotionally, but it’s worth the struggle. Also, I think it’s important not to torture yourself with thoughts of the ideal employer-employee relationship, or the ideal friendship. There is no such thing! There is only what works for you. Good luck and I hope you do find your “found family” some day!

  24. sequined histories*

    I am so sorry you feel so alone. I do have some family left, but I have lost some of the people I was closest to when I was younger. I have managed to make some friends as an adult, but that can be very complicated—even very nice people aren’t necessarily going to “click” with each other, people are at different places in their lives, etcetera. Everyone, I believe, wants that sense of belonging and acceptance that’s conventionally associated with family. And, of course, the pandemic has created and exacerbated feelings of isolation for so many people.

    I noticed some people commenting who seem to be implying that the strength of your longing made you behave oddly at work and that’s why you were let go. That’s within the realm of possibility, I suppose. But, to be honest, it sounds to me more like you’re a person who will find a way to blame yourself for most anything, especially something like this that is a big deal to you, and especially in a context when you haven’t been offered a clear and satisfying explanation. Please don’t take on these well-intended comments if they just serve to make you feel even worse. Honestly, your emotional state and mindset is going to be hard for some people to understand, especially if they haven’t grappled with anything like the fears and realities that plague you.

    It sounds to me like you have been very unlucky, in more ways than one: not having a family and now not having a job. That’s a lot of adversity right there. Plenty of people have a decent amount of family support and a decent job without being one bit better or more worthy than you are. I seriously doubt that looking for a way to blame yourself right now is going to help you find what you’re looking for.

    I agree with the commenters suggesting you look into hobbies, yoga classes, church attendance, and things like that to bring you into contact with people who might some day be friends. I agree with everyone saying that finding meaningful relationships can be a long, slow process, but that it’s something worth working on outside of “work.”

    But mostly I want to tell you that a starting point for moving forward in life is not blaming yourself for your own bad luck. There are people who would value your friendship and there are people who would value your work and I hope you find some of those people soon.

    1. allathian*

      This is a really wonderful and insightful comment, I really hope that the LW isn’t put off by the comments above (including some of mine), but reads this far down.

      That said, I do think that the comment about loving the job being more important than the salary means that many people, myself included, saw this LW as someone who isn’t living paycheck to paycheck.

  25. New Mom*

    I’m sorry, OP. A lot of us, myself included, have experienced this at workplaces and it’s hard but on the bright side, it seems like this only happens once. Because once you realize that a workplace is not like a family, then you will never get burned the same way again. Give yourself some time because it can be tough at the beginning but it’ll get better.

  26. TootsNYC*

    re: loving your work.

    I am lucky to work in a field that really fits with my personality.

    But if I were working as a cater waiter, I know I’d enjoy that. If I were an accountant, I’d enjoy that.

    My dad gifted me with the ability to enjoy many, many things. To find something interesting and involving in any activity I do, even waiting on a train. But that’s in me.
    The fact that I ended up in a field that really hits one of my passion points is a blessing, but it’s also really heartening to realize that I could go work at Home Depot (as my retired teacher and drama coach dad did) and really enjoy it.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      It is a good skill to have! And I think it’s one that can be developed, with practice. I am not a naturally patient person, but I realized eventually that being so annoyed about things was also annoying me. Developing a habit of looking for things that were interesting and cultivating a non-judgmental awareness of things that were happening ultimately made me happier and less annoyed.

    2. allathian*

      This sounds like a useful skill to have. If more people had it, the world would probably be a better place. It would certainly be a happier one.

  27. Anonymity*

    It is totally honorable to work “for the money”. Society would absolutely collapse if no one did this. I admire those who do the grueling jobs.

  28. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Anyone else get sucked down the rabbit hole at the first link with the obsessive self-sacrificer? I can’t bring my eyebrows down from my hairline!

    1. juliebulie*

      Oh, yes. And the follow-up.

      If she’d dropped that heavy equipment on her foot while toting it across town, would she have paid out of pocket not only for her own medical expenses, but the cost to replace the equipment??

      1. Heidi*

        I remember that rollercoaster. Just when you thought it was getting more sane….it wasn’t. At one point, I was wondering if the OP was thinking that the employees should be paying the company to work there.

  29. Anon and on an on*

    OP, you are looking for a personal reason why you lost your job, because it is very personal to you. I understand that.
    But it is not a personal relationship. No, “it’s not you, it’s me.”
    You are trying to make, “my partner broke up with me because I cared to much and s/he wasn’t ready for that kind of relationship,” fit into “my company downsized because of a pandemic and although I was furloughed, after awhile, they determined that there wasn’t a business need to keep me on.”
    and it won’t. Because it is not, for all the reasons Alison named.
    Good luck in your job search.

  30. James*

    I feel you. I am a romantic with an over-developed sense of loyalty, doing work I believe in. It’s probably stupid, but I can’t be something I’m not, and so far it’s worked out fairly well for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% in my job for the money–I just chose to make money in a field that I deeply love, and found a group that I work well in.

    The reality, though, is that I’m a little fish in a big, big pond. As is always the case with little fish, we only see part of what’s going on. I know enough to know that there are a lot of reasons for a company to cull a group–either eliminate it, or reduce the staffing, or whatever–that have nothing to do with the quality of work done by any individual. Sometimes the executives make a strategic decision that doesn’t include your department. Or they need to cut costs across the board, and hand down orders to reduce staffing by X%. And in such situations good workers can get the axe as easily as bad, unfortunately.

    I’ve also been the guy making the call. There are people that I really like as people–but when asked “Should we hire this person?” my answer had to be “No”. I’ve had to tell people “I can’t afford to have you on my team due to budgetary constraints.” It’s not an easy call to make. Ultimately the responsibility of the manager is to the company, though, not their workers. Ideally the manager is loyal to the company through loyalty to the workers, but when the situation requires it the manager has to put the company first. That’s why we don’t get to be friends with our team.

    As for filling the void, I’d recommend using this time to ask yourself what hobbies you enjoy and exploring them. Do you like cooking? Woodworking? Play cards? Dressing in funny cloths and pretending to shoot people? There’s groups out there for literally any interest. If your interest is the work you were doing, there are groups out there for that too, regardless of the industry–or at least groups that are tangential to it. Think of this as a breakup. You don’t want to get into a rebound relationship; you want to find out what you want out of a relationship first, then look for a relationship second.

  31. friendly neighborhood marxist*

    Might be interesting to do some reading on Marx’s theory of alienation on how capitalism serves to alienate us both from the work we do AND from each other. Unfortunately for many, “community” has become replaced by “colleagues,” which as OP is learning, is not the same thing. That type of connection is simply never going to be feasible or healthy from an employer. Gotta find that among peers and equals.

  32. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    If I did what I loved I’d make zero dollars. My job, while enjoyable, is not my passion in life. It is merely a means to pay for said passions.

    1. Willis*

      If I tried to make the hobbies I love into jobs, I’d probably end up hating them. Cause now they’d have emails and deadlines and other people’s requirements attached to them. I’d wager even people who have jobs that seem like passions have to deal with the business side of things and have other non-work stuff like hobbies, friends, family, etc. to counterbalance.

      I doubt the OP was let go because she thought of work as her mission and coworkers as her family, but I still think it would be healthy to reframe her outlook for future jobs.

    2. LadyDisdain*

      I actively pay to do what I love, because I produce “small professional” theatre as a “hobby” funded by my Real Job

  33. Mr Mike*

    I was laid-off (reduction in force) with several others after 24 years with the same company. As bad as being laid-off at 55 was, when I called my colleagues later to say my goodbyes (everyone who wasn’t laid-off was in an all-employee meeting until we were escorted out of the building) no one picked-up or returned my calls. These were people I worked with on a daily basis for years. This meant no references, but when looking for a job at 55+, references are the least of your problems. Still, being shunned by former colleagues after 24 years still stings even after 9 years…

    1. WellRed*

      How awful! Were they awkward people in general? Afraid layoffs were contagious? Told not to talk to you? We’ll never know, but wow.

      1. Former Employee*

        I wonder if the remaining employees were not only told not to talk to the ones laid off, but were also given a “reason”, as in, “You don’t want to talk to them [the ones laid off] because they were doing bad things that were hurting the company; that’s why they were the ones selected for the lay off.”

        Maybe I just have an overactive imagination.

        1. Raine*

          I worked at a large corporation where the employees were told not to give out personal references and to refer all calls to HR – basically, “we’ll verify employment and nothing more” sort of deal.

  34. juliebulie*

    They probably wanted to replace me for someone who treated work like work

    You’re supposed to treat work like work, because it’s work! Business is business, even for nonprofits. I understand the desire to have a family/community relationship with your colleagues because you spend so much time with them, but that mustn’t be your priority when you’re at work. Nor can it be your employer’s priority.

    It isn’t dirty to treat work like work. It is what they are paying you for. I can understand why you are feeling a little bit lost, but I think you’ll be happier when you can treat work like work and pursue the other stuff on your own time (hobbies, this is where you meet the people who can appreciate you for who you are and what you like!).

  35. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    It’s not necessarily bad to think of coworkers as friends or almost family, but I think you went all in on this one area and now that you have lost that connection, you don’t have other sources of support. In personal and professional life, I think it’s important to diversify your emotional “investments” so that one source of fulfillment or socializing isn’t your ONLY source. ANY group at any time can fall apart — family, romantic relationships, friendships, church groups, hobby groups, work groups. It’s important to maintain meaningful connections outside of any one area — a romantic partnership, a church, a volunteer or hobby group, and work — so that if one area suffers a rupture, or you begin to feel unsafe or unfulfilled, you have other sources of support.

    1. juliebulie*

      This reminds me of when I was in college. I joined a particular club, where one of the older jocks – a graduate – told me, “don’t let your life revolve around this place, because after you graduate, your center of the universe will be gone.”

      I didn’t understand what she meant at first, but over the next few years I saw it happen to quite a few people. If I ever see her again, I will thank her for the warning! (Alas, I’d have to remember her name in order to find her!)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Excellent life advice. As a widow, I’d encourage anyone to have interests of their own. This can be a hobby or a group. Or maybe just a side gig. Spread yourself out, so that all the eggs aren’t in one basket. This actually makes for healthier relationships but for the long haul, if you become separated from your person by whatever means, you still have things that are yours and yours alone. It does not have to be big, nor does it have to be time consuming, but it should be a longer term activity, something that is just a part of your ordinary life.
      It’s super important to have several aspects to our lives. If one aspect tanks, chances are pretty good that the other aspects will hold steady and help us to carry on.

  36. Eye roll*

    I’m a little mad for you that you were fired while on furlough… and then replaced. A furlough generally means you stay on payroll, you continue to get benefits, you just aren’t working or getting paid for a period. That’s why isn’t a furlough and not a layoff. Firing and replacing an employee during a furlough should require the same conversations as firing and replacing an employee in general; they didn’t eliminate your position to save money – they fired and replaced you. The fact that you’re trying to invent reasons to explain the firing means they didn’t have any performance, change of direction, or restructuring conversations with you prior to firing you during your furlough. That’s just a sign of a bad employer.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Not everywhere pays during furlough – I think a lot of places in the US at least used it as a term to mean “layoff we hope won’t be permanent, caused by covid”, and people were no longer employed by them. In the UK because there was a government scheme to pay furlough pay, that was less true (being on furlough = receiving at least a percentage of salary, and still being employed). I’m not sure about other countries.

  37. JSPA*

    OP, Some dating / mating sites are not exclusively for dating, sex and romance. The ones that are usable for friend finding are also a way to intentionally search for “found family.”

    As for any other relationship, you can’t go in looking desperately thirsty (nor incapable, due to your preconceptions, of any form of compromise).

    You have to go in with the understanding that no person or even group of people can (or should) be your “everything,” nor should you expect or try to be that for anyone else.

    If you’re a earnest person who has a hard time imagining people who don’t operate as you do, be aware that you can make a tempting target for users and scammers. (Be as careful of people who come on intense and overly-heavy, as you’d expect them to be, if you came at them too hard and too fast.)

    But with those caveats, yes, people do search for and build family, instead of waiting for it to form at work.

    Conversely, your workplace did not all get together and decide to dump you, while dancing gleefully. Someone made the decision. Period. If you’re stopping yourself from contacting anybody from work because it’s painful that they’re there, and you’re not, that’s legit, until the sting eases. But if you’re assuming that everyone you liked at work was secretly plotting your exit, and feeling like a discard they’d never want to associate with again? That’s projection.

    Some people may have been work-friendly, or work-sociable, without being friends; others may be glad to catch up outside of work (provided you have anything else in common, outside of work).

    You can’t badger ex-coworkers.

    For friend overtures, as for dating overtures, you don’t get a bunch of bites at the apple. (And it should go without saying: if you’ve had conflict with anyone–or they with you–this is not the time or place to try one more time.)

    But if you have not already done so, you can of course drop a single email this week to one work-friend ex-coworker, saying, “even though we’re no longer coworkers, if at some point post-covid you’d like to [get together and bake the vegan brownies you once asked about / go to the street fair if it happens this September / look into that beading class people were talking about pre-Covid] or something like that, I’d be totally game.”

    Wait a couple of weeks, and send something DIFFERENT to someone else. Two weeks later, try a third person. Again, new, person-specific suggestions.

    Write them so that if people were to compare notes, it’s not, “OP is desperate for a friend and can’t let go,” but “OP is nice to let us know they’re happy to keep in touch, and are not harboring any bad feelings.”

    Don’t F it up by talking about pain, betrayal, work being your family, being somehow too dedicated to be employable [that’s just not a thing!], too pure or too principled to respect other people’s differing takes on reality, or anything else that says, “My boundaries are not well-marked, and if you are kind to me, you’re volunteering to be covered in a sludge-shower of my hopes, fears, chagrin, and lingering sense of abandonment.”

    Will this convert even a single work-friend into a friend-friend? Dunno. Maybe not. It’s fairly rare for work-friends to becomes friend-friends. But it’ll almost certainly leave you feeling better than slamming the door on everyone you felt warm towards, at work, because you’re no longer working there.

  38. Former Young Lady*

    One thing to know about “found family” — even if you really do have that kind of a bond with friends or colleagues, that bond is subject to the same structural weaknesses as a family bond through blood/adoption/marriage.

    What I mean by this is, your found family can still get swept up in some ideological puritanism and cut you out of their lives. Your found family can move far away and let the connection atrophy because Life is Happening to them and they don’t have time to keep in touch. Your found family can abandon you, betray you, grow apart from you, or do things that alienate you from them, even after decades of trust and admiration.

    When that happens, it can hurt every bit as badly as when your legal relatives do it. In fact, it can hurt worse, because, “hey, you CHOSE this family, you should have been able to prevent its collapse!”

    Try to remember that every relationship, of every kind, eventually ends — either the bond breaks of one of the parties dies. It’s extremely rare for anyone to stick by you for life, especially if they aren’t legally bound to do so. Idealizing the notion of “found family” can be just as harmful as idealizing the “natural” family or the “traditional” family. People fail each other. That’s just people.

    1. Alexis Rose*

      I think this is the tricky thing about ‘found family’. Those relationships often don’t turn out to be the way people idealize family–strong, life-long bonds that will be worth repairing after any amount of hurt.

      I personally don’t confuse work with family–thankfully I have a good relationship with my biological family–but I do understand that impulse to confuse the two, because work gives you this structure and level of accountability where people are forced to be there for each other at some level when tackling work issues. That level of accountability, responsibility, and togetherness is not common to develop in adult friendships in my experience–when I see those super close and interdependent adult relationships, they often go back to college or high school.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Ties into friends for a reason, a season or a life time. Life time friendships are extremely rare. Most friendships are a reason or a season.

  39. Looking Forward*

    OP this is an exact quote for me!!!! Laid off with no explain then another comes in. Well I found my replacement took 10K less a year than I did and I found a company that doubled my earnings. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I volunteer at the pound and there is my work “family” I love the animals and I love working there as a volunteer. Try to wmove forward you never know what is out there.

  40. Esmeralda*

    OP, I’m very sorry you weren’t brought back from furlough, and that they didn’t have the common courtesy to let you know! It’s very hard when your social and emotional life are all at work (similar thing happens with college and grad school, I think — I know I felt bereft when I graduated college!) — you’ve lost a lot.

    I don’t have advice — Alison’s is good — I just want to wish you the best in finding a new job and in finding connection and support.

  41. Amethystmoon*

    Eh, I think it’s a combination of things. I have stayed where I am for over 10 years. I don’t love what I do, but I don’t hate it either. I get along with my coworkers. What we do is important to others, even if it is technically for profit. We are considered essential infrastructure during the pandemic. Anywhere else, I might have been laid off. I think it’s more important to like what you do, but you don’t have to love it. I love my real life family but they aren’t my job, for example.

  42. Sherri*

    I’ll add that it’s a false choice to say you’re either working for money OR working for passion. It’s not exclusively one or the other. I really enjoy my work (I’m a data analyst), but if I win the lotto or get a surprise huge inheritance, would I continue to do what I’m doing? NO!

    Yes, there are people out there who would continue to do their work if money wasn’t an issue, but truly those people/situations are few and far between.

    Every once in a while I count my blessings in that I have the situation I have. I enjoy it enough that I don’t have to focus on the money I’m earning to get through my day.

    Good luck to you!

  43. PT*

    This is interesting to me, because I have had several soul-sucking jobs…working at the places everyone is suggesting the LW go to find community outside of work.

    It’s a very odd position to be in, at a job you hate but in a community of people you generally like. You end up putting up with way more garbage from your job than you would ordinarily due to the personal connections you’ve made. (I shouldn’t let my boss’s boss call me 10 minutes before llama training class starts on a Sunday and beg me to drop everything I’m in the middle of doing and rush in because it’s disrespectful of my time…but the ladies who take the Sunday llama class are so great, I love them, I don’t want them to miss class, I guess I’ll do it. *grumbles*)

  44. Heffalump*

    I don’t think I’ve ever had an employer say, “We’re like a family.” If they did, my crap detector would go off.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      And *my* Godfather detector would go off!

      That said, we have a company where I live, that’s been famous for insisting that they are like family, including the words “(company name) family” in their materials and so on. Recently they made the news for laying off “roughly 140 employees while adding twice that number of jobs overseas”, and for how they executed the layoff. (All quotes from the local news articles)

      “For employees within the large product delivery department, two Zoom meetings were announced Wednesday morning with the vague header “Product Delivery Update.” Those who were given a link to a 10 a.m. meeting were greeted with a pre-recorded message from (Company)’s Chief Product Officer (name) giving them the bad news.

      The 10:30 a.m. folks were also greeted with a scripted message. It assured them that their positions were safe but noted that a restructuring was afoot. This would include, among other things, local layoffs and a significant ramping up of workforces overseas at (Company)’s offices in both India and Poland.”

      FWIW, no one I know ever bought into their “we are family” BS, and the company was famous in my field in my area for overworking and underpaying their workers.

      I don’t need a work family. I already have a family family. My family is one of the reasons I work; to provide for them when I had dependents, or to be able to help them out if needed, now that all my family members are on their own.

  45. twocents*

    Some concrete ideas on finding your community (imaging a vaccinated world):
    — meetup (the app/website)
    — Facebook events
    — sport events/gym
    — volunteering
    — craft clubs even if they’re informal ones like a local yarn shop
    — community theater
    — talk to your neighbors (don’t be creepy, but do you even know who your neighbors are? I’ve lived in places where the answer was no)

    I’m sure other people will have more ideas, because it is hard making friends as an adult. But keep in mind: people don’t need to be all things to you to still be good people. I have a friend whose bestie she’s known since junior high and they do everything together. Which is cool for them, but you’re not a failure if you don’t have a lifelong bestie (I don’t either).

    It’s okay if you have Wakeen who works out with you, Beth who volunteers at the community garden with you, your round table that plays board games together… You may end up finding one or two people in those different groups who become your go-to peeps, but that kind of friendship only comes with proximity + chemistry + time. You can’t rush it. Good luck.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      The proximity + chemistry + time formula is important when you consider that many people, including the LW, wind up inadvertently focusing on making work friends because spending 40 hours a week together indefinitely is about as high proximity as you can get. Same goes for time. Work ends up looking like a great friendship hack until you realize that this means you can easily have something that looks like a fast friendship while neglecting the chemistry variable. Not good.

      OTOH, pretty much everything you’ll do outside of work usually involves way less time and proximity spent together, so new friendships there will either take a much longer time to develop, require really clicking with people, or both. Taking work out of the equation turns your friending formula on its head, and that can be difficult to come to terms with.

  46. the cat's ass*

    I really like my job, and my co-workers; I’ve been there for 15 years, the longest I’ve worked any place in my entire career. So I get being invested in the work and the people. But it’s my JOB; i do it (mostly cheerfully and happily) so i can afford to wash my clothes and fix the holes in the roof and buy cat food. It’s important to have a whole other life outside of your job; maybe sometimes there are intersections (pre covid i was in a yoga class with someone i didn’t know that well from another department, it was nice) and that is great, but finding someones/somethings outside of work enriches your life and gives you so much more of a community. Good luck, LW.

  47. Observer*

    I suppose I’m an idealist in thinking that everyone should be working because they love their job and not just for financial rewards.

    That’s a fairly privileged way of thinking. Most of the world does not have that option. In fact many people don’t even have the option to prioritize a job they love over financial rewards. And, to be honest, in a way it’s not a bad thing. Of course, it would be great if people had options. But there are a lot of jobs that need to be done that no one is going to do because they love the work.

    The thing that concerns me here is that you seem to be looking down at the people who work “just” for financial rewards. If that comes through to others that would be a legitimate issue for a good employer. Because there ARE going to be a lot of people who are working largely or completely for the money. And the people the MOST likely to be working for the money are the people who are the most vulnerable and lowest on the social, economic and power ladders.

    Also, I really have to wonder if you misread your workplace’s plans. If they really did indicate that they were planning to bring you back, that’s really not good. But you are displaying a fundamental misunderstanding about how employment works, so I’m wondering if that’s because they were bad employers or you were not understanding what you were seeing and hearing.

  48. Spearmint*

    You have my sympathy, OP. Making friends as an adult–real friends, not buddies or acquaintances you merely do activities with–is very hard. I agree with the others that it’s not smart or realistic to want to find community and family-like bonds at work. It’s understandable why you’d want to. Hell, our ancestors mostly worked with family or fellow tribespeople, so it’s natural to want, but that’s not how modern work is.

  49. Juulz Verne*

    This one hits close to home, as I went through something very similar – I landed what felt like my “dream job” in August 2019 and was very invested in my work, my coworkers, and my company’s mission as a whole. Then COVID hit, and I was laid off in May 2020 with 3 days notice. It was very painful, and I felt betrayed as well – when I was hired, my coworkers and managers kept telling me how excited they were to have me on board and how much potential I had, and to see that all evaporate the moment that things got tough for them financially just twisted the knife. I really liked my coworkers, and losing that social network was tough as well.

    I was able to find another job by August (with a raise, though the work is less exciting compared to old job), but a few months after that, I found out through the grapevine that my former employer was re-hiring for my exact position, and hadn’t bothered to reach out or tell me, which re-opened all the hurt and betrayal that I’d felt a few months prior.

    I say all of this to re-iterate some lessons that I have learned, having gone through something similar:
    – As Alison said, your employer probably had a number of valid business reasons for not re-hiring you, that very likely weren’t personal or indicative of how they thought about you as an employee. In my case, I had moved cities and also my new job had a title increase, which meant they couldn’t hire me back at my old salary anyway.
    – At the end of the day, employers will always look out for their own interests before anything else, including their employees. It hurts, but your employer will never care about you the way that you care about them, and maintaining a sense of distance there is important for your own self-preservation moving forward.

    To the OP: I hope you’re able to find a community outside of work, through volunteering, hobbies or otherwise, which can help make up for the network you lost at your former job.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      The flip side, though, is that employees are also free to look out for their own interests in terms of not hesitating to advocate for themselves or leave jobs for ones with better pay, which is the same mindset of putting too much emotional stock in the job that is now leading the LW to feel betrayed. The LW needs to look out for her own best interests in the future by being less invested in work and more invested in other aspects of her life.

  50. Ames*

    I was thinking of “Ask A Manager” the whole time I watched Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Apparently “we’re a family here, don’t look out for your own interests, we’ll take care of you” is manipulative lies, even when it’s a LITERAL and ACTUAL family saying it!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Unfortunately, their duties are more important than their family bonds. And time we make our personal relationships take second place, we can figure on problems either now or later.

      1. Not family*

        That is absolute bollocks. The same cultural crap I grew up with ‘your duties are more important’. Errrr NO NO NO! Society does not tell you what your duties are. You have 2 responsibilities:

        Your children
        Don’t break the law.

        The royal family is an absolute joke. Duties my backside.

  51. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

    I’m really sorry for you, OP, and hope you find a new and better job soon. Loving your work is great, but if you’re worried about it being a hinderance to future employment the one thing to considering is if being so mission/greater good focused is causing you to not do the more boring parts of your job. I work in the arts and non-profit worlds, and it’s not uncommon to have employees who are awesome at the work that they love doing, but then completely ignore or do a half-assed job on the more menial tasks. Yes, I know none of us went to conservatories to file paperwork, but I do actually need the contracts properly signed and catalogued. I do need payroll processed on time and expenses tracked. I do need the marketing materials properly proofread. Etc.

  52. Here we go again*

    Many, many people — most people — have jobs they tolerate rather than love. There’s nothing wrong with that; those jobs need to be done, and there’s value in that work. But for some reason we’ve taught a whole generation that they’re supposed to love their work … leaving them to feel like failures when it doesn’t happen. We’d all be much better off if we instead made the bar for “success” that you find work you’re pretty good at, can do without being miserable, and which earns you a living … while leaving you time to find emotional fulfillment from other parts of your life. If you do happen to end up in a job you love, that’s a bonus … but we set everyone up for frustration and angst if we talk about it like a must-have.

    ^^^ This needs to be taught to all high schoolers and colleges students and drilled into every single high school guidance counselors head. Your worthwhile as a human being doesn’t come from how fulfilling you find your job. No elderly person has ever said I wish I spent more time at work.

    1. Cassidy*

      “…most people — have jobs they tolerate rather than love.”


      How do you know that? Is it documented somewhere?

      1. twocents*

        I don’t know anyone who would say they LOVE what they do. Most people I know like their jobs well enough, but that’s not exactly “I love my job so much I’ll carry heavy equipment for five miles.”

        1. Esmeralda*

          I used to have a job I really really loved. It was time limited. When the time was up, my employer did not have another position for me. I ended up in a related field, doing similar work. Not similar enough for me to love it. Enough for it to be reasonably satisfying work, and it fits my values.

          While my previous job did not involve carrying heavy equipment any distance at all, I did work very very hard at it, and willingly took on additional tasks and worked many additional hours, for no additional pay, because I loved it. Metaphorically carrying heavy equipment. I did understand that was what I was doing and I was ok with it. Because I loved it. Because it was meaningful work that I was exceptionally good at and recognized for. I still miss it.

          So while yeah, work is work, sometimes people do find work that means more than that to them. It would be nice for the commenters here to stop whacking at the OP for feeling that way.

          1. twocents*

            I was responding to someone who was suggesting that most people do love their jobs and was questioning why Alison said most people don’t. I’m sorry if it came across like I was criticizing OP.

          2. allathian*

            I feel rather sorry for you, because you let your employer take advantage of your passion for the job. No employer is going to love you back. You’re also going to hurt other prospective employees by letting your employer pay you less than the position and your effort is worth. I’m sorry, but I don’t have much patience with or respect for that sort of attitude.

          3. Observer*

            So while yeah, work is work, sometimes people do find work that means more than that to them. It would be nice for the commenters here to stop whacking at the OP for feeling that way.

            There is a huge difference for HOPING that you can find a job that you would be happy to do for no pay if you didn’t have to worry about living expenses, and “ everyone should be working because they love their job and not just for financial rewards“.

            If someone has the option to be able to hold out for work of that sort (while still fulfilling their obligations), that’s a blessing and I’m happy for them. What people are trying to tell the OP is that putting a “should” on that is not reasonable.

      2. Like my job a lot but not gonna lug heavy equipment on foot for it*

        Do you have documented evidence to the contrary–i.e., that most people love their jobs?

        Motion to introduce into evidence as Exhibit No. 1 the following abstract summary of humankind as delivered on the Drew Carey Show (no I don’t know if the writers stole it from George Carlin or not, don’t @ me):

        “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY. They meet at the bar.”

      3. Observer*

        How do you know that? Is it documented somewhere?

        Nice troll. But actually, this is pretty well documented. Google “job satisfaction” surveys, and you’ll see all the proof anyone could need.

      4. Not family*

        Surveys available via Google. The academic work is available via Google Scholar (some won’t be available but most are).

  53. Batgirl*

    I think it’s really natural to derive personal pride from work when it’s a type you love, and to feel a kinship with others who love the same type of work. Just so long as you don’t confuse loving a career choice as loving one particular job! The thing is, work is a nomadic business. You can still love the type of work, and the type of people without becoming too enmeshed in a particular role. It’s really not realistic to expect a set of employers to keep you for life just because you’re willing to swear fealty. It’s also not realistic for them to expect you to sacrifice your own career options and wider life for something as temporary as a job. The ‘greater good’ is about all kinds of shifting priorities and options; not about people remaining stuck in one place. If you can take your experiences and passion to the next role, then it’s not over.

  54. Frustrated*

    OP, I totally understand how you feel. I’m really sorry that this happened to you. Basically, every employer I have ever had, bar one, has treated me poorly (despite my genuine value to them, in both the value of my work and in the revenue I brought in for them, directly and indirectly).

    I wish I had something better to add, but I just wanted to express how sorry I am that this has happened to you (and in the middle of a global pandemic!), and that I can relate. But I am also sure that it will get better! You sound awesome. I’m sure you have amazing things ahead of you.

    But please do make sure that you take care of you: that is critically important!

  55. Cassidy*

    I love what I do, but in my workplace, friendships come first, and it can be a nightmare where decision-making is concerned. It also can be tough for those of us who, despite having warm relationships with coworkers, are seen as uncooperative and distanced when we don’t treat coworkers as friends. It is so toxified. Good thing I love what I do.

  56. WorkerGal*

    I had a job that I absolutely loved, and my colleagues were fantastic and some became friends. There were a few of us in a section of the agency that was very toxic. My boss was malicious and incompetent. I was dedicated to the work and ended up staying a lot longer than I should have. I was about to leave at one point last year but the pandemic job market took a turn for the worst. I stayed longer, suffered through it, finished some great projects with close colleagues, and was abused every stop of the way by my awful supervisor. Eventually, I got out. I hoped for a long time that my boss would leave. She seemed very ambitious but alas she stayed, and long after I left, she’s still there in the same, exact, role.

    My colleagues were a big reason I stayed. One has kept in touch, others have slowly faded. And this was in a line of work where you travel a lot with people and develop trust between each other. I know some of my colleagues spent holidays and weekends together, we all got so close. So yeah, it hurt when I realized I had to go or tolerate more bullying. And for a while, it hurt more not necessarily that I lost touch with some people, but that I had to let go of work I loved and people I felt close to on some level because of a bully.

  57. me*

    I’m really sorry. I spent a year at my first job out of school and then got laid off. It was like a gut punch because I had always gotten really good feedback from my managers. The only thing I could compare it to was like a really, really bad breakup that I hadn’t seen coming. I spent more time each week at the office and with my coworkers than I did with anybody else, since I lived alone, and it took time for me to mourn. I ended up working a series of temp jobs for several months, and met a number of people who were in my industry, which helped me feel less like I was on an island and more like I had a professional network, which helped a lot.

  58. Phil*

    I was very lucky to work at something I loved for 45 years. It was a creative career with a high technical content and those tend to self select for people who love it or you wouldn’t do it. Believe me, this one is so hard to crack that you better really love it or you wouldn’t put up with the first few years.

    1. Phil*

      Oh, and out of a staff of about twelve 8 of us are still friends and pre COVID got together regularly.

  59. moneypenny*

    “We’re like family” is a red flag for me, always. I’ll never work at another family company again, but I would give real caution to any interview that says they’re like family even if they aren’t related. It gives way too much leeway for them to misbehave, like Alison says. As long as money is being exchanged for work, work comes first, not family.

  60. Not family*

    Dear OP. Needy and clingy people are the worst. It’s tragic, because if you weren’t needy or clingy you would find friends. But that requires work, like any relationship. Invest time in building friendships outside of work. And work is work, get on with it, they’re not paying you to behave like you’re in a pub.

    1. sequined histories*

      While it true that it is easier to find friends–or get a date–or get a job–or anything like that–if you don’t give off a “desperate” vibe, I think this comment is extremely unkind. Given all the genuinely evil people there are in the world, I assume that you are using hyperbole when you say “Needy and clingy people are the worst,” but, just . . . wow . . . I am amazed that you think it’s okay to basically kick someone who is already down like this. You do not know OP. She might be needy and clingy–or she might be shy and extremely reserved–because that ALSO makes it hard to make friends–or she might be a victim of various unfortunate circumstances. You certainly have no reason to conclude she lost her job for behaving “like [she’s] in a pub.” You seem to have gone out of your way to be unkind, judgmental, and insulting. This comment is inconsistent with the rules and mores of the site.

      Please don’t treat people this way. Please don’t leave such comments here.

  61. I DK*

    I’m sorry, OP. I can feel for you. I worked at a job for 20 years when one day, a large chunk of my “friends” decided to quit and go to work for a start-up competitor. I was hurt because I couldn’t understand how my so-called “friends” had decided to try to take the food off of my table. I decided that with friends like that, who needs friends? I have since recovered and moved on with, thankfully, no contact with my former industry. Now I work with friendly people that I am friendly with and my true friends reside outside of that sphere. The only people I owe my loyalty to are those that never made me question theirs. People don’t abandon people that they care about, they abandon people that they were using. Alas, a hard lesson learned, though.

    1. Frank Doyle*

      I have to say, it doesn’t sound like you’ve moved on at all. Your former coworkers didn’t “abandon” you or try to take food from your table (what??), they made a business decision that they thought was best for themselves.

    2. Salsa Verde*

      The only people I owe my loyalty to are those that never made me question theirs. People don’t abandon people that they care about, they abandon people that they were using.

      But your former coworkers didn’t abandon you, they left their workplace for another one, right? And they didn’t take food off your table, they got a different job, and your employer hired replacements for them, right? And if your employer hadn’t hired replacements, wouldn’t that place the blame on your employer, not your former coworkers?

      It sounds like you have learned to be friendly with people you work with and have closer friends outside work, which is great, but I have to agree with Frank Doyle, the framing of the situation in the first part of your comment seems like you have not actually moved on from the hurt feelings at all. I hope you can find peace with the situation.

  62. Stella Carrier*

    A multiple number of these articles I view on ask a manager are definitely sometimes heart string pulling and would make for some good creative fiction stories and this article is far from the exception especially since it is obvious that the letter writer might understandably miss the job they were laid off from. With that said, my suggestion might be far from popular to share though how was your relationship with some of your former coworkers andor some of your bosses.  The reason why I ask this is because if you are truly interested in going back to that same company in laying you off sometimes begging andor asking for a job back might actually pay off. However if doing this is far from something you might want to do you could also “visit” the company (if they still allow access to former employees) and talk to some of your former coworkers who you had a rapport with andor any of your former bosses to gauge your chances.  I say this because sometimes a few months can pass when a boss andor some former coworkers might be open to a former employee/coworker returning to the previous company and it might be a matter of right timing.  If neither option sounds feasible for you maybe searching for a new job related to the job you missed that you got laid off from might be in order especially if there are any permanent andor short term volunteer opportunities related to that job.  Either way good luck whether you decide to ask your former boss for a chance to return to the company, you seek a similar role in the same geographical area you live in or a new area of residence andor something else. 

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