In a recent review of Morning, Paramin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), Walcott’s final published work, I reflected on how difficult it can be to escape Sir Derek’s titanic shadow.
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Great employees make great friends
Q: Our company, N7 Creamery, will soon open its flagship location in Southern California. This has been one of the most difficult undertakings of my life, but I find myself thinking about the team I have built rather than any concerns about money. This leads me to my question: How close is too close? Is it OK to develop tight bonds with and even to grow to love the people who work for you?
I’ve met some of my closest friends through my work, and I’m delighted when our employees at the different Virgin companies tell me the same thing. In most jobs people spend more time with colleagues than with family and friends, so why not turn professional relationships into real friendships? A warm and friendly atmosphere can only benefit your team and your customers.
The guidelines you put in place on this subject will shape your company’s culture for years to come. Some managers frown upon their staff having fun at work, becoming the best of friends or even falling in love, but I disagree. At Virgin we’ve managed to create a fun, inclusive, energetic atmosphere at work, and the friendships and romances that have flourished have enriched our lives; we’ve celebrated many employee marriages over the years.
Such bonds encourage employees to collaborate and help them to stick together through tough moments. A couple of years ago, after Virgin Money acquired the British bank Northern Rock, I traveled the country, welcoming the new employees into the Virgin Group. One of my goals was to get a better sense of the atmosphere at the branches, and I was thrilled to find that at many offices, there were not only husbands and wives working together, but sometimes their sons and daughters too! There is no stronger endorsement than when an employee tells a relative that a company is a great place to work, so I knew that our new business would fit well with the Virgin Group.