It doesn’t matter where you work, who you work for or what you work as; in every workplace you always find the same types of co-workers. It’s as if, in every workplace, there are certain roles your colleagues will always play. In my own experience, in every role I have ever had, I have always encountered the following:
In every job I have ever had, I have always had someone looking out for me. Whether they’re older, wiser, more senior, more experienced, or simply have more sway with your superiors, there is always that person who hears you out, who calls bullshit on your managers, who covers for you and generally protects you professionally — your workplace parent. And, just like a parent, sometime they pull you up on things, get stern with you or tell you to grow the f*** up, and you hate them for it… for about five minutes, until you are reminded of why you don’t.
They aren’t all necessarily female either, so don’t be fooled by the “mama” bear title. There most certainly are male Mama Bears that go in to fight your corner. No, I use “mama bear” because, as we all know, in the wild, it’s the mama bear you don’t want to cross. It’s the mama bear that will rip Leonardo Di Caprio to shreds. The mama bear isn’t your friend — you’re its cub. And though sometimes they’ll nip you in the butt, most of the time they just teach you how to climb those trees, feed yourself, and generally succeed in the wild workforce world — and they’ll always be ready to tear any threats to your success limb-from-limb.
The ally is different to the mama bear. While the mother bear is, in some way, above you professionally (or just in life generally), your ally is that colleague that is more or less on your level. It may be that you’re the same age, or that you’re doing the same job, or that you started around the same time, or it could just be that they’re experiencing the same shit you are. They’re your friend, the colleague you’re most likely to spend time with outside of work and the colleague you’re most likely to moan about other colleagues too. They’re always there to agree with you when you whine about so-and-so being awful and are always there to pull faces behind someone telling you off.
Hold on to your workplace ally/ies. Don’t underestimate how bonding an experience working with someone can be and the significance of your work-life in your life more broadly. My parents’ best friends, to this day, are their workplace allies from 40 years ago.
There is always one. Always. That person who is either sweet-as-pie to your face but then completely undermines you behind your back, or just outright nasty. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had at least one colleague that has made their job and work-life hell.
It might be that they wait for you to slip-up and gleefully dob on you to your manager when you do, or that they think they’re superior to you and can therefore boss you around and offload all of their work onto you, or perhaps that they blame every thing they possibly can on you when you’re not there, or even that they undermine you in front of your colleagues and even your clients, or even something so petty as consistently excluding you from after-work events — or perhaps it’s all of the above (like it was for me — don’t worry, I felt absolutely no remorse when I issued invitations to my wedding to everyone bar them).
What can I say, some people just don’t outgrow the high-school bully mentality and sadly they carry right on through to the workplace dolling out the same nastiness that some poor, freckly fourteen year old would have once had to deal with at school.
Just as there is always a brownnosing snake, there will always be an oblivious manager ready to listen to them. There is always a manager who is in some way inconveniently superior to you, that the snake has fooled. And even if this manager cottons-on to the snake’s behaviour, frustratingly they so rarely do anything about it! Most likely because they’re scared of the snake themself.
Haven’t we all had a manager that, funnily enough, has no idea how to manage people?
Somewhere far and away from all of this workplace politicking is a boss that floats in and out as they please. Either they have an office on some elusive “top-floor”, or don’t work in the office at all, or are even just an owner that pops in a whim — we all have one of these enigmatic figures that we rarely see outside of the office Christmas party. It’s widely known that they are god of all and rarely interfere with the direct running of the business… except when they do (even if it’s just to smite that snake in your daydreams)… and when they do it’s terrifying…but awesome.
And that’s about it! I’m sure there are others, but none that I could speak with authority on. So go and hug your mama bear, toast your ally, forget to invite the snake to your wedding, get your manager some glasses and/or hearing aids and dream of the day your boss will return to earth.