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We don’t hang out with our coworkers

Lisa Napoli Feb 28, 2008

We don’t hang out with our coworkers

Lisa Napoli Feb 28, 2008


Lisa Napoli: You probably like at least a couple of the people you work with. But are you really friends with any of them?

Olenka Kacperczyk is a doctoral candidate at the Ross School of Business in Michigan. Her research shows we’re not at chummy at the workplace as we used to be. And that makes us different than the rest of the world.

Olenka Kacperczyk: Well, so we find that in 1985, 50 percent of Americans had someone close, so a friend at work. That number is actually down to 30 percent by 2004. So in 2004, only 30 percent of Americans identify a friend in their workplace.

Napoli: What happened? Is it that we’re not keeping the jobs as long as we used to, or what’s going on?

Kacperczyk: So actually, we looked at the time we worked, with the hours, with family, with any other obligations that prevent us from doing, from socializing outside of work. That’s not the case. So we basically found that between 1985 and 2004, there is no significant decrease or change in those other constraining factors. So our theory is that basically, there is some increasing isolation that’s going on. So people in generally socialize less, and coworkers are just part of how we socialize less with each other.

Napoli: Mmm. This is not, I see from your research, this is not the case in other places. And you studied two other countries, I see.

Kacperczyk: Yes, exactly. So we looked at Poland and India as countries of comparison to what’s happening in the U.S. And American socialize 50 percent of their network or even less, around 50 percent of the network of their colleagues. Whereas in Poland, that’s the case for 74 percent. In India, it’s even bigger, ’cause that’s 78 percent.

Napoli: It’s just ’cause it’s too hard, or too much energy, or . . . something.

Kacperczyk: Haha. So our explanation for it was basically that it’s all about culture. So the U.S. has been socialized in a culture where you really keep separate the professional from the personal.

Napoli: What, Olenka, is the most extreme difference between the U.S. and, say on the other end, India, ’cause that seems that those are the two most extreme.

Kacperczyk: We asked our respondents about having gone on a vacation with a coworker. For Indians, they have spent already at least one vacation with 45 percent of their coworkers. That’s almost half.

Napoli: Wow.

Kacperczyk: Whereas for Americans, that percentage is only 6.

Napoli: And that’s not a romantic thing, it’s just we’re friends and we’re gonna go away for the weekend together somewhere.

Kacperczyk: That’s exactly it. When you’re both sales . . . let’s go fishing. You don’t do it in this country.

Napoli: Olenka Kacperczyk is at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

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