Your Obligations To the Coworkers Who Have Moved On

Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” – G.K. Chesterton

At 23, I’ve been longer at my company than most people. I have a memory of five years of effort, mistakes, successes, and disappointments. And that’s changed my responsibilities somewhat. 

While I still have to change and reinvent and break down things at work, I have to also do something with my knowledge that a bunch of people who gave their blood, sweat, and tears for this company no longer have a seat at the table for what happens next.

So I have to sit in for them.

Perhaps they left because of frustration. Perhaps they left because of other opportunities. In any case, what kind of thanks would it be if their work were undone without a good reason?

In most business decisions, the only stakeholders considered are the people in the room, who just so happen to be working for the business at that moment. They may have some really good ideas. They may also be sorely lacking in historical context and nuance. It’s my job to represent the coworkers who have moved on and to (gently) inform the present of the past.

Look, I get that old employees don’t have any good reason to expect that a business will do things the same way they once did. Things have to change. But you wouldn’t let someone tear down the Notre Dame without beholding it first. Similarly, I probably shouldn’t let anyone destroy honest work without a damn good reason. What we do will materially impact them financially (affecting their stock values), but it will also affect the destiny and the meaning of the work they did.

Knowing that I have this obligations helps me to think differently about conflicts of vision with my coworkers now. I don’t mind losing a popularity contest with the present crowd if it means I’m doing right by the past crowd. Then there’s the future crowd to consider.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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