Wondering whether, where and how often you should socialize with coworkers? Weighing the pros and cons of getting to know them on a personal level? Thinking about how it might help (or hurt) your career? I spoke with four workplace experts to get some answers.
“Socializing with your coworkers is essential for your career,” says Alexander Kjerulf, an international author and speaker on happiness at work. “If you're not able to relate to your coworkers as human beings and build positive relationships, your career will suffer. Socializing and getting to know them as people will help you to communicate better, trust each other more and work better together. Also, employees who have positive workplace relationships are happier at work (in fact, good workplace relationships are one of the most important sources of workplace happiness) and we know that people who are happy at work are more productive, more creative and more successful overall.”
Dr. Maynard Brusman, a consulting psychologist and executive coach, says coworker socializing is prevalent in most offices. “The modern workplace has become a community center, or a ‘home away from home’ where people get many of their social needs met. Neuroscience research supports the idea that our brains are hard wired to connect with others. We spend so much of our time at work, that it's natural that we develop relationships in the workplace.”
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, agrees. She says most coworkers socialize at some level—but a lot depends on the size of company, the corporate culture and the department. “In small companies, there is a lot less formality and the interaction level high – so there can be more socializing in that smaller team environment. At larger companies, the atmosphere is often more conservative, and there’s an unspoken culture of less social engagement. Some business leaders foster a more humanistic, team-oriented workplace and others want the environment to be strictly business. The former approach is always more motivational. The key is finding the happy medium where employees are friendly, courteous and supportive, but not enmeshed in each other’s lives.”
According to Brusman, collaborating with colleagues socially can be “very politically savvy [in terms of] building trust and support.” It can help team members get to know each other on a personal level, ultimately increasing engagement, he says. “And it can help when influencing and persuading others is needed to achieve common goals.” Socializing can also be a great way to develop empathy and create a high performance culture among people who are happy to work together on significant goals, he adds. “People can further develop their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills by socializing with others.”
Taylor believes it is beneficial for colleagues to socialize, to a certain degree. “It’s one thing to show genuine concern for fellow employees. It’s another to divulge your entire private life to a coworker. Building friendly relationships creates a fertile ground for teamwork, and is far better than a sterile workplace that spawns competitiveness and mistrust. That atmosphere engenders more creativity, as people innovate most when they feel supported and the work culture is upbeat and fun.”
How and where should coworkers socialize?
Kjerulf says it should happen both inside and outside the office--but it's most important to be able to socialize in the workplace, since that’s where employees spend the most time with one another. “There should always be time for a coffee break where you don't talk about work, or a fun lunch break where you can laugh and relax with coworkers,” he says. “Also, small office celebrations for birthdays or team wins are a great way to socialize.”
Cali Williams Yost, a flexible workplace strategist and author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, says as a rule of thumb, you should only socialize with coworkers in situations where you are most likely to showcase your best behaviors. “A friend of mine is so passionate about the New York Rangers that he has a hard time controlling his emotions when they play. If they are losing, he can get visibly upset, so he knows he can't ever attend Rangers games with his coworkers because they might not understand his intense reaction. But he has no trouble attending any other sporting event with his team.”