Workplace friendships positively affect task performance, yet Americans claim fewer friendships at work than employees in other countries.
The result could be competitive disadvantage for U.S. companies in world markets.
Teams composed of friends outperformed acquaintance groups in decision making and effort tasks, reported University of Melbourne’s Karen A. Jehn and Priti Pradhan Shah of University of Minnesota.
Likewise, workplace friendships and coworker support were associated with greater performance effectiveness in a meta-analytic study of more than 160 groups with nearly 78,000 employees by David A. Harrison of University of Texas and colleagues.
Even employees’ perceptions of workplace friendship opportunities directly affected job involvement and job satisfaction.
These perceptions also indirectly affected organizational commitment and turnover intent among more than 170 employees in a small electric utility, reported Adelphi University’s Christine M. Riordan and Rodger W. Griffith of Ohio University.
However, fewer than one-third of Americans reported having a close friend at work, one indicator of employee engagement according to The Gallup Organization.
More importantly, workplace friendships have significantly declined over the past 3 decades in the U.S, but continue to be strong social connections in Polish and Indian organizations, found MIT’s Olenka Kacperczyk with Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, and Wayne E. Baker of University of Michigan in an unpublished working paper.
They conducted surveys across the U.S., Poland, and India and determined that less than one-third of Americans reported inviting their closest colleagues to their homes, compared with two-thirds of Polish participants and nearly three-quarters Indian employees.
Even more dramatic is the discrepancy between groups for spending longer off-work time with workplace friends: Just under half of Indian survey volunteers reported going on vacation with closest co-workers, whereas one-quarter of Polish workers and only 6% of Americans said they shared a holiday with colleagues.
Americans were also significantly less concerned with social interactions during work tasks, compared with Mexican and Mexican-American participants, found University of Southern California’s Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks with Richard E. Nisbett and Oscar Ybarra of University of Michigan.
After volunteers from each cultural background watched a four-minute video of two people working together, Mexicans and Mexican Americans more accurately recalled social and emotional group content.
Mexicans and Mexican Americans also preferred workgroups with a strong interpersonal orientation, and opined that group work performance could be improved by focusing on socio-emotional elements.
This focus on socio-emotional performance more greatly influenced group task success than the group’s ethnic composition, again suggesting that Americans’ trend toward social disengagement could undermine their productivity.
Continuing disengagement from American co-workers was described as ‘bowling alone’ by Harvard’s Robert D. Putnam, who contrasted current social disconnection with previous cohesiveness in after-hours U.S. company bowling leagues.
One explanation for national differences is that in the U.S., long-term employment is less secure than in countries with labor protection statues.
As a result, people can’t expect to stay indefinitely in one role, so remain detached to prepare for voluntary or involuntary job changes.
In fact, Wharton’s Adam Grant argued that “We view co-workers as transitory ties, greeting them with arms-length civility while reserving real camaraderie for outside work.”
Some observers attribute interpersonal disengagement to newer models of working, such as telecommuting and working remotely.
However, evidence from more than 45 studies of at least 12,000 employees that “telecommuting had no generally detrimental effects on the quality of workplace relationships,” particularly when people came to an office at least half the time, according to University of Illinois’s Ravi S. Gajendran and David A. Harrison of University of Texas.
Even if workplace relationships don’t become friendships, brief encounters can be high-quality connections characterized by respect, trust and mutual engagement.
These interactions energize both parties, posited University of Michigan’s Jane E. Dutton, and may address potential decreases in employee engagement and collaborative productivity.
-*To what extent do you have strong workplace friendships?
-*How have you seen workplace friendships affect work quality and productivity
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