• Nancy Mendelson

Does Birth Order Influence Your Personality At Work?

Hi Nancy,


Recently I realized that throughout my career, I have always looked to my bosses as my big sisters/brothers. As the youngest in my family, they would often tell me that no matter how old I was, I would always be the baby. This got me wondering whether we stay in our birth order personalities…even at work? As an avid reader of your column, I know you have had a lot of work/ life experience and would really love to get your take on this.

- Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner


Jennifer Grey as Baby in Dirty Dancing
Jennifer Grey as Baby in Dirty Dancing

Dear Baby in the Corner,


You raise a very interesting and compelling topic; one that I am first-hand familiar with, tackled when I was in therapy, and am delighted to give you my take on it.


I have some very strong feelings on this subject… first and foremost, that companies who play the “we are family” card do their employees a HUGE disservice. In setting up this unrealistic scenario fraught with unrealistic expectations, how do we not fall into “our birth order personalities” and subconsciously take our places in the familial order?


Once, the irresistible pull of “belonging” to a family-centric culture—quite different from a family business––pushed so many buttons, it turned a dream job into a nightmare. The circumstances of my employment so paralleled experiences from my childhood that I struggled mightily to not get sucked into the vortex of projecting my past onto my present. Yet, while I was fully aware that I was re-enacting family dynamics in the workplace the pull was so powerful that I would get so lost…so emotionally involved (too emotionally involved) that it drove me back into therapy.


And I’m glad it did, because I learned that re-enacting family dynamics in the workplace is fairly common in organizations that play the “we are family” card. I’m also glad that there is lots of support and reinforcement out there if you find yourself struggling in a culture that encourages that behavior:

Your Workplace Isn’t Your Family (and That’s O.K.!) says the New York Times Cosmo suggests that the ‘Work Family’ Fantasy Is Actually Hurting Your Career and true story…as I was responding to your email this post by Dr. Richard Orbe-Austin popped up on Linkedin, Why Leaders Should NOT Say Work Team Members Are “Family”.


So, are we are destined to stay in our birth order personalities, even at work? Think it depends on whether or not it’s working for you. It didn’t for me.