Your Job Is Not Your Community

Thoughts on third spaces, remote jobs, misplaced flirtation, and the thread that ties them together.

September 15, 2018Filed under Blog#community#corporatism#remote work#sexismMarkdown source

Skimming through Twitter this morning, two threads caught my attention.

The first, by Kyle Shevlin, pushes back on the idea that people should be expected to just pick up and move across the country for a job—never mind the personal and communal costs to them. This stands at the crux of the point he’s making (but the whole thread is good; I encouraged him to turn it into a blog post):

We don’t even pay attention to this [i.e. the lack of communal ties and third spaces in our lives]. The pastor/philosopher in me gets frustrated with the lack of concern over the loss of community. Instead, we have tried to replace our relationship to other people with the relationship to our work and work place.

The second, by Stephanie Hurlburt, gently but firmly tells guys to stop trying to flirt with the women they meet at professional meetups.

I am noticing a trend in women age 18-22 I’m mentoring— they try to network and get mentoring and go to meetups and literally every guy they try to talk with gets flirty

They’re blocked from this professional advancement because so many guys jump straight into trying to date

I agree with Stephanie’s point here, but it was the juxtaposition with Kyle’s point that particularly caught my attention.

Without excusing the young men who turn from professional networking to flirting immediately on encountering an attractive woman at a tech meetup—again, don’t do that!—it’s also worth addressing the structural reasons why move is so tempting. (As usual, these kinds of things are worth addressing both individually and structurally, and in fact have to be addressed both ways to see real change.) One of the structural issues which leads to “see an attractive woman at a JavaScript meetup, decide to flirt with her” is the thing Kyle is pointing at. Namely: we’ve offloaded the vast majority of our social existence to work.1 Given that many of these young men have no other social contexts… where exactly are they going to flirt?

It’s good and right to do as Stephanie does here and say, “This isn’t the right place for this, guys.” But—and this is no critique of Stephanie’s point; not every blog post or every tweet is responsible to cover every angle on a topic!—we also need to substantially reorient our understanding of the place of professional contexts in our lives. Leaders need to stop framing their companies as “a family”2 and, even more, need to recognize that companies are not and cannot be the solution to this problem. To the contrary. When a company responds to their employees’ felt need for more community by trying to become that community, it reinforces the actual problem. Counterintuitive though it might seem, the best thing company leaders can do for their employees is make sure that their company is just a job. (If you want to do more than this, find healthy local community spaces and support those—financially, by promoting them, etc.)

Neighborhood book clubs, churches, recreational sports, local art-making of all sorts, topical discussion groups, political activism, community service… these are the actual kinds of activities and institutions we need more of. Not more of company-as-community, professional-as-identity. If we work hard to build those thicker, healthier kinds of spaces, then professionally-focused spaces actually can remain professional. They won’t have to do work they aren’t meant to do, and ultimately can’t do well without compromising their primary work.

  1. and social media, but that’s a different blog post—it exacerbates these issues as well, to be sure

  2. something my own employer has been guilty of, and on which I have prodded them!