The Guardian


Meeting up with ex-workmates are increasingly popular. But, you should be prepared for a few surprises

Have you ever wondered what happened to that girl you were friendly with in your first job? Or that joker from the accounts department who was always organising the Friday night drinks after work? Judging by the numbers of people signing up to specialist Internet sites to trace former colleagues an awful lot of us are prone to a touch of nostalgia.

Finding long-lost workmates may be easier than you think. Zoe Campion traced one by entering the person’s name into a search engine. “We’d worked together teaching English in Hungary nine years ago but lost touch,” she explains. “I knew she was still teaching back home in New Zealand when I’d last heard from her, so I searched for her name plus ‘language school’ and I found her straight away. We’ve exchanged a couple of e-mails but because she lives abroad there’s no pressure to meet up. It’s just nice to hear what she’s been up to.”

The desire to get in touch with people we used to know is natural. As Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School in the UK, puts it: “As you get older, you start to look back at your life. We all wonder, ‘Did so-and-so really make it to the top?’ or, ‘She was nice — why didn’t I keep in touch?’ It’s healthy. It means you’re reflecting on your lifestyle and questioning the judgments you’ve made.”

Nevertheless, it’s important that you don’t expect too much when tracking down old workmates. “There’s a danger that some good memories will get ruined,” Cooper cautions. “You may find that someone is very different to how you remembered them or that you’re the one who’s changed and don’t have anything in common any more,” he adds.

Accountant Iain Marr discovered that looking up old workmates can have unexpected benefits. Some years ago he used to temp, alternating between assignments in South Africa and the UK. “One time when I arrived back in London I called in on a guy I’d worked for at Rank Xerox, just to say hello,” he remembers. “Not only was he still there but he said, ‘We’ve got something else for you if you’re interested,’ so I got another job straight away. A couple of years later, I did the same thing again but he’d moved to a new job in a bank. I rang him up there and the same thing happened — he had some work for me! We’d got on well in the past so he knew he was getting a good worker and I knew I was getting a good boss.”

The need for group reunions comes from a primitive herding instinct, says Cooper, and is especially strong in organisations where employees have worked together under great pressure. “We often spend more of our waking hours at work than we do with our family. It’s like war. You see a bond forming with colleagues because of the intensity of the experience. That’s why reunions of ex-service people are often very successful. I think we’re going to be seeing more of this kind of thing in future as more people are under pressure at work.”

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