Is the Workplace Really the ‘New Neighborhood’?

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College dorms aren’t just about having a place to sleep and study; they allow students to form friendships easily. Similarly, recreational sports leagues are partially about the love of the game and partially about meeting new people. People who move to a new city are encouraged to join these leagues for a reason: to make friends.

Workplaces can serve a similar purpose. While you might not be looking for a job just to make friends, you might form new relationships as a result of spending 40 hours of your week at work. Some workers are finding out that these friendships continue past the day they submit their resignation letters and into the days of collecting Social Security.

According to a new study by Dutch researchers, employees who retired within the last 10 years are more likely to stay connected or form new workplace connections than retirees in the 1990s. Although we acknowledge that most of our readers live in the U.S., the study’s findings make us wonder if our workers are all that different from the Dutch.

From the study:

“We found that those who retired more recently were more likely to maintain at least one personal tie after retirement than those who retired earlier. In other words, we discovered that a particular relationship at work was so important that they decided to continue the relationship,” [lead author Rabina] Cozijnsen says in a statement. “The notion that people lose their work-related ties after retirement because they no longer see one another at work needs to be reconsidered, in terms of well-being and the aging process.”

Workplaces are the new what?
The news blurb discussing the study refers to “the workplace as the ‘new neighborhood.’” Declaring an old thing a new thing is always risky, because not everyone agrees. Are blogs really the new newspaper? Is 40 really the new 30? That’s for you to decide, but apparently workplaces are where many people create lasting friendships.

In fact, Gallup research finds not only that many workers have workplace friendship, but that those who do are more engaged employees.  From Gallup’s surveys:

“Our research revealed that just 30 percent of employees have a best friend at work. Those who do are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher-quality work, have higher  well-being and are less likely to get injured on the job. In sharp contrast, those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1-in-12 chance of being engaged.”

Having someone to pass the time with and who lifts your spirits can have a positive effect on your performance. Who knew?

One-third of your waking hours
If you crunch the numbers, maybe these findings shouldn’t be that surprising. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you work a standard 40-hour week with traditional office hours and get your recommended eight hours of sleep each night. (Obviously this assumption doesn’t work for everyone, but it makes the math simpler.) There are 168 hours in a week, and you’re awake for only 112 of them. You’re at work for 40 of those hours, and the remaining 72 are spent traveling to and from work, doing chores and being with your loved ones. Roughly one-third of your waking hours are spent at work. Doesn’t forming some sort of meaningful bond make sense?

As Tom Rath and James K. Harter point out in their Gallup piece, even workers who aren’t surrounded by colleagues can make connections. You don’t have to work in a sea of cubicles or a bustling retail store to form bonds with your co-workers. E-mail, instant messages and phone calls take the place of water-cooler talk for people who work at home or in remote offices. These communication tools also make it easy to stay in touch once you’ve moved on to another job and, ultimately, once you’ve retired.

Not everyone wants to have a close friend at work. Some workers are understandably opposed to mixing professional and personal relationships. Many businesses have strict policies against it.

As we begin to recover from massive layoffs and a rough economy, can you continue to form those bonds? Are those friendships the ones that make the hardships easier? Where do you fall on the issue: Do you make long-lasting friends at work (and beyond) or do you keep it strictly professional?

25 Comments
  1. Pingback: Is the Workplace Really the ‘New Neighborhood?’ : The Work Buzz « Michelin Career Center's Blog

  2. Work should be separated from your personal life. Too many people use work to escape their real life and work is where most affairs occur. If more people focused on making their personal life more fulfilling, then they wouldn’t have to rely on work to satisfy their personal needs. It’s fine to have friends at work and to hang out occasionally for a drink, but mixing work with your personal life will only hurt your reputation and cause problems in the long run.

    • Jeff, while what you are saying should be true. It’s just not practical today. Companies require way too much from employees now. I don’t know anyone that works a 40 hours work week that doesn’t also have to bring some of that work home to complete on a weekly basis. We work more, get paid way less. Therefore, not only do we spend too much time at work, but we don’t earn enough to have a properly active social life.

      • Jason,
        If you’re taking work home with you, you damned well better be getting paid for it. Small stuff here and there is one thing, but if you take work home every week and you aren’t getting paid… you’re getting duped. That’s all part of why more is expected of workers for less pay. Overtime is time and a half, and if a full time job encroaches on your time (time that you can never get back), not getting paid is not only immoral, it’s illegal. Workers need to take action. Blow the whistle!

        • For an hourly job, yes, but for those of us on salary, the pay is to accomplish XYZ, regardless of how long it takes. Granted there are weeks that are less than 40, but there are many that are 40+. Work has to be taken home or it doesn’t get done, and performance of XYZ is not always something that CAN be done in 40 hours, which is why salary negotiations are so important. I’ve worked 15 hours and 90 hours at previous jobs and received the same pay. Sometimes that’s just how it is, for better or worse.

          • I find it interesting that companies make working people work more so that they don’t have to create jobs for those who need them. Break the back and spirit of those people you have rather than hiring adeqaute staff is a disturbingly common pattern and a crisis in this country. It will eventually pit the working versus the non working. The Greedy upper class is still raking in the bucks. It is sick and embarrasing what corporattions have placed upon our society.

            To my knowlege 1 state has a limit ont he amout of time a salaried employee can be expected to work. That state is California and the absurd number is 70 hours.
            We need better labor laws in this country to protect us all from the short sighted greed which has become rampant.

            • The last thing we need is MORE government intervention into the Constitutional right to contract between individuals. People complaining about working more than 40 hours a week act as though they’re chained to a desk in a Chinese sweat shop. Worse, actually, because I’ve BEEN in a Chinese sweat shop, and they don’t use chains. That being said, if you make yourself marketable and invaluable to your company, then your employer will realize it’s in their best interest to keep you around/give you benefits. If you can just as easily be replaced by 100,000 other people, then why would you expect privledges? Be greatful that you have a job when so many others do not, and quit complaining that you don’t get spoonfed and coddled. The death of Personal Responsibility will be the downfall of America.

            • You are correct !! It is one thing to try and help save your work place. But, the abuse delt to the American people in more and more cases is wrong and criminal. Unfortunetly for us in California we have been growing greed for way to long. It alone, in my opinion is the #1 reason we are in the hole we are in. It hurts all of us and puts more people on the streets.
              Think about this…Ca. would have been what ??? the fourth of fifth strongest country if broken from the US not to many years back. Look at us now.

  3. I think forming bonds at the workplace is inevitable because we, as humans, were created as relational beings and cannot help but to gravitate to and attract some sort of relationship with another person. I believe it is ridiculous to be strict about forming healthy and appropriate relationships on the job.

    • Yes, the key is appropriate. Some people have no friends outside of work and then work becomes their personal life. Distracting and inappropriate for the workplace.

    • Because some treat or think of employees as a tool and not a human being. O u will get treated like a tool if you let them. I feel sorry for people that cannot get out of that situation. Been there done that and it sucks.

  4. I may have missed it, but I didn’t see in this article that one reason we form close friendships in the work place these days is that our families are spread out all over the country and world in some cases. I have family from California to Ohio, but only my son and I live in this state. We have a “family of friends” here from sports and school activities, but as he is now a young adult the dynamics have changed. Whereas, the people I consider personal friends I have made at work, by sharing a lot of time in the same cubicle and learning we have the same outside interests as well.

  5. I am looking for a job in Medical Billing. The job I work now is long hours and I have no life. If someone out there knows of a job in Medical Billing that is in Monticello, or Liberty NY. Please let me know.

  6. This article is spot on. I worked for a company for 10 years. I met my husband there, 3 of my closest friends, and I had my children while I worked there. That place became a part of forming who I am today, and while I may not still talk to everyone I worked with regularly, when I do it is as though there has been no lapse in time. When you spend that much time (40hours a week X 10 years!) you cannot help but form close bonds. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

    • Thank you Texas, very well said. Appropriate, healthy relationships among coworkers is the foundation of an excellent company with happy employees.

  7. I think it really depends on the environment and in the end, it becomes a balancing act. I’m only 23 but I worked at a television station while I was in school for 2.5 years. It was a very unprofessional environment…constant gossip, constant ball busting-just a very negative place. Granted, I had friends there and such but I felt, especially during the summer months, I only hung out with these people because there was no one else and I didn’t have a girlfriend or anything.

    The place I work at now has more middle aged people compared to my old job which had a lot of people in their 20s and early 30s. After my negative experience at my old job, I have learned to keep some things to myself that I don’t want spread around. I actually met my current girlfriend at this job but she was only a temporary employee and no longer works here. I’m glad she was only a temp because otherwise I think it would have made things awkward especially if we broke up at some point.

    Bottom line is, you need that balance. There needs to be a line drawn. I have made a couple of friends at this new job but again, I’ve learned it’s a matter of who to trust. I think I used to be too trustworthy of people, now I’m a lot more careful. It’s very important to have your relationships outside the work place have prevalence over your work relationships. Remember, at the end of the day, you’re at work for a pay check, not a social outlet. That’s what I think many people forget…

  8. I’m at work to make a living not make friends…yes I am civil, yes we have laughs and share some memorable moments with each other. But I do not see my coworkers as extended family or as friends. I never know when I’ll have to make a tough call that will upset them (and consequently our relationship) – so I keep my distance.

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