Forget Leaving a Workplace Legacy – But Do Great Work

Retirement. Part of the American Dream. The day you walk away from the job because you no longer need to work, at least not on that schedule, or for those benefits, or for that particular paycheck. It’s an odd word, really. Where I work, people have unusually long careers, at least by today’s standards. And it seems when there is a gathering to say goodbye to someone, there is a long list of the things they did over their career. The product launches, the equipment start-ups, technical advances, continuous improvement projects, or specific leadership accomplishments.

Foreground: Oakland Cemetery  Background: The Equitable Building - Atlanta
Foreground: Oakland Cemetery Background: The Equitable Building – Atlanta

And they all have at least one part of that list that is the one they feel most connected to. The one they would call their legacy.

Legacies in HR seem more rare. In the world of HR, I have heard the word “implementation” too often related to legacy. When policies and laws change, someone has to drive implementation of the new rules. Someone has to drive the change management and implementation of the new HR system. Or the new benefits provider. That’s not legacy-worthy in my opinion. It’s just reacting to change.

But, then again, I don’t think workplace legacies are important.

Truth is, I don’t care to have a legacy. I don’t know what others will choose to remember about my work, but they won’t remember it long. Things change. I work, I lead, I come up with good ideas from time to time, and I work to bring them into reality. That’s it. If I am doing my job well, and I think I am, I am developing others to be smarter than I am. Benefiting from what I may be able to teach, but at the same time bringing their personal life experience to bear on their work.

My legacy won’t be at work. If I have anything that you might consider a legacy, it will be in the hands of those who really helped make it so. My wife, my kids, my grand-kids. Those who I can count as my friends. That’s who deserves my best everyday.

Are you conscious, in any way, of your legacy? Do you have something in particular you want to be your unique contribution?

If it’s at work, then I hope you have an even better one in mind for your family. Because your workplace legacy probably won’t mean much to you if you haven’t thought through the personal aspect first.

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