This past week one of my friends, Andy (Bims) Mast passed away. We were not friends in the traditional sense that often think of as friends. We didn’t share many common interests and outside of the occasional breakfast, we didn’t spend much time together over the past five years. Bims and I came from different generations and often had different ways of looking at the world. But despite these differences, we became friends when we worked in the same business over twenty years ago. I was a typical high school teenager who was looking for a summer job, and Bims was the seasoned employee who wasn’t sure that I would last the summer.
I still remember the first morning I reported to work and came face to face with a tall Amish man who had a long beard a loud gruff voice. For the first day or two, I was too scared to say much of anything to Bims, let alone try and find out who he really was. However, as the days and weeks went on, I slowly began to realize that beneath the loud, gruff exterior was someone who had a great sense of humor, and someone who loved to tell stories. One of my favorite stories was when he would talk about his fastpitch softball years and the time he pitched against Bobby Knight who would go on to coach basketball at the University of Indiana. These stories and his ability to say what was on his mind soon showed me that we didn’t need to have much in common to be friends.
We continued to work together at the same business over the next twelve years, but there came a point when both of us found our lives and careers changing. Bims was moving towards the end of his career just as I was beginning mine. This meant that our positions occasionally intersected but we rarely spent the workday together. Over the years, we still saw each other on most workdays, and I still looked forward to hearing a story, or what his opinion was on whatever happened to be in the news. As time passed, I eventually found myself in charge of the division where Bims worked. At first, I was excited about the new opportunity, then I came to the realization that I would be responsible for leading a group of employees who, like Bims, seldom backed down from sharing what was on their mind.
Early on in my new role, I made many managerial mistakes like trying to overextend my limited authority and making sure that everyone knew I was in charge. Through it all, Bims always knew how to handle my ignorance, and would often pull me aside to say great one-liners such as “don’t you get loud with me” or “now you listen here” when I overstepped my boundaries. Over time we both became comfortable with the new arrangement and often found ourselves again talking more as friends and less as co-workers.
After twelve years of working with Bims, I eventually moved on and started a new business with a friend. As fate would have it, Bims would eventually join the new business and would be a key employee for several years. But soon life changed again, and I had the opportunity to pursue my dream of becoming an attorney. This meant that I said farewell to Bims yet again and headed back to school for the long trek to becoming an attorney. For several years we lost touch, not because we intended to avoid each other, but as a side effect of no longer working together.
Then one day when I was in law school, Bims called to say that he needed my help with some real estate. Eager to help, we met for breakfast and it felt like old times again. That one breakfast changed our story once again as Bims and I kept in touch over the next several years. Every several months he would call with a question, or I would call him to get his opinion on something. That continued until two weeks ago when I spoke with Bims in what would be our last conversation before he passed away. At the time, we didn’t know it would be our last conversation, but I don’t know if the words would have been different if we had. We had a mutual respect that came from working together for over a decade and we didn’t need any words to express our friendship.
I decided to write this story about Bims not only as a tribute to who he was, but to remind us of what we sometimes fail to notice about the workplace. Some of our co-works slowly evolve from being simply our co-workers into being our friends. This is not particularly surprising news. We have long known that spending time with people may result in friendship. What we have only begun to realize, is how important this can be in the workplace.
The realization that employees who enjoy their co-workers are happier employees has helped push many companies into using personality testing in the workplace. Eighty-Nine of the Fortune 100 companies now use personality testing for employees. Although personality tests will not test on whether co-workers will be friends, the underlying truth is that personality tests are trying to determine whether a potential employee will be a good fit in the culture the business is trying to create. In other words, can the employees be friends with their co-workers? What we have learned is when employees enjoy being with their co-workers, it will lead to happier employees, which causes increased productivity and higher profits.
In the end, I don’t know if a personality test would have predicted that Bims and I would be friends, but I know that if a personality test can find me more co-workers who become friends like him, I would give it a try.
Attorney At Law