Socialising with work colleagues

A letter from our August edition.

After reading the report ‘Why organisations should encourage their staff to become friends’ (Digest, July 2016), I felt motivated to write a response based on some observations I have made over recent years regarding socialising with work colleagues. Whilst keeping specific details anonymous, I can safely say I work in a somewhat unique working environment. It is unique in that I have never before been employed by a company that promotes colleague socialising in such a salient way. Socialising is such a promoted activity it is felt by some that it should be added to the list of role specific duties!

I am a firm believer that as we spend a lot of time at work, healthy working relationships contribute towards an enjoyable working experience. It can be an organic shift that people we naturally gravitate to at work become friends out of work, and these relationships can long outlast a period of shared employment. Therefore is seems odd for Jessica Methot, the lead researcher in the report, to suggest that employers need to encourage what she refers to as multiplex relationships. Incidentally, why would people actively socialise with people they do not gravitate to at work?

When considering any work-related relationships it would be a fair point to make that they exist on a horizontal and vertical level. Relationships on each level would be subject to very different dynamics, including power relations. A common complaint found within my current company is that senior members of staff are encouraged to set the socialising example and are regularly obliged to attend events. These are possibly the sorts of events they would have been interested in attending in any case, but they actively become antisocial due to an apparent lack of agency over attendance. I often hear around the office negative statements such as ‘I will not be “made” to enjoy myself’, so they see the event as a chore rather than an opportunity to build good working relations. The potential for a positive working experience and enhanced team performance is unrecognised.

Other negative comments are made regarding vertical relationships. It is a very difficult dynamic to balance when outside work a relationship is horizontal and within work it is vertical. It would be another fair assumption to make that the relationship probably started vertically so the senior/junior boundaries are set and acknowledged norms of behaviour are demonstrated. This shifting between the two relationships could be what Methot was referring to when noting a difficulty in relationship maintenance.

A common observation made within the office is that those who are seen as having multiplex relationships with senior members of staff are more likely to get assigned ad-hoc projects, and more work generally. This additional work is often without pay or recognition, so it is accompanied with feelings of an abuse of the friendship and a lack of trust. There is a very strong sense of unfairness of shared tasks and a lack of real teamwork. Interestingly, those that do not complain about having an unfair workload seem to be the ones that are less sociable and have fewer multiplex relationships.

Name and address supplied

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