Chuck was speaking in a small circle at a local social gathering a few years ago. At the time, Chuck was working for a Fortune 500 company. He kept saying “we” when he referred to the actions of this corporate behemoth. “We” are developing a new product line. “We” are opening a plant in India. “We” are buying ABC Corporation.
Chuck had worked at this large company for about 15 years. He was in the upper half of middle management. In terms of climbing the ladder, he had done very well. Still, I found his use of “we” disconcerting, partly because it seemed self-aggrandizing but mostly because it seemed like he had been indoctrinated in the company as family mentality of years past. Chuck’s department had nothing to do with the new product line, the new plant, and the company acquisition he referenced. But, in his mind, he was “we” and, as such, he had falsely identified himself as a permanent part of the company.
20 years ago, this mind set made more sense. Lifers at companies had reason to feel so strongly identified with their employers. I would more readily understand an IBMer from the 1960s referring to “we”. Today, not so much.
I recently heard that Chuck was let go from the corporation. It was one of those impersonal cut the whole division deals.
That’s challenging in all the ways that losing one’s job is challenging. But, Chuck has another psychological hurdle to overcome. He is no longer “we” and that must really hurt. He had over-identified with his company in an almost familial way. I’m not sure how he processed his termination: “We decided to let me go.”
In my career counseling work, I’ve noticed that those that were hired well before The Great Recession by big companies and were fortunate enough to keep their jobs during the economic downturn are most prone to over identify with the entity that pays them money. I’m all for company morale building and feeling that one is part of something bigger than oneself. But, unless you are in the inner core of your organization’s decision making, you are not “we”.