Friends at work, but how about outside the office?

My daughter is having a great time in college. She has made a ton of new friends. Listening to her talk about her social life reminded me how hard the transition is from college to the workplace. Suddenly, a few months after being around people your own age, having a social life takes much more effort. It helps though, when you make friends at work.

Workplace friendships might seem like our personal business, but our social connections have become our employer’s concern too. Research shows employees who have close friends at work are more engaged, more likely to stay, and more likely to say they love their companies. 

But there seems to be a gap what expectations are around workplace friendships.

Younger workers view the workplace as an ideal venue to look for people to have dinner with, to catch a movie with and hang out. At the same time, many Generation X workers, the mid-level leaders who are in their late 30s, 40s and 50s, want friends in the workplace but aren’t as interested in socializing with them outside the office. 

The challenge for managers becomes how to encourage those bonds and balance a workplace that young workers see as a venue to expand their social network and older generations see as a separate from their personal lives.

Some companies organize social activities that will get their entire staff engaged. Some do nothing and the office morale reflects it. Some employers try another approach — empowering their younger staff to come up with ideas. 
 
Marston, president of Generational Insights, which consults businesses on generational trends in the workplace, says the more successful companies encourage young workers to take charge of creating the camaraderie they want at work. “Young people are saying we want a happy hour or we want a cooking class and we would like to organize it.” Marston says. “Employers are then facilitating those activities by giving millennials space on the bulletin board or Intranet to promote those offerings and not frowning when requests are made.”
 
Luis Vega, 25, a new hire at Grant Thornton in Fort Lauderdale says he is excited about the possibility of a company kickball team, but Vega says he would be as happy going to dinner with his team after a long day of work: “It doesn’t have to be a firm-scheduled event. It would be great just to socialize with people on my work team who have the same hours.” 

Marston says older generations are going to need readjust their attitude and  make more effort to connect with their team on a personal level if they want to keep their workers happy: “Millennials are saying I don’t feel connected to my workplace or my boss.” 

To be fair, Marston says that most people, regardless of generation, want friends at work: “It’s just a matter of how far that friendship goes.”

What are your thoughts on workplace friends?  Do you think it makes a difference in the workplace when people are friends outside the office, too? Has having a good friend at work ever affected your decision to stay or leave?
 

The Work/Life Balancing Act

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