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Is the Workplace Really the ‘New Neighborhood?’

College dorms aren’t just about having a place to sleep and study; they allow students to easily form friendships. Similarly, recreational sports leagues are partially about the love of the game and partially about meeting new people. People who move to a new city are encouraged to join these leagues for a reason: to make friends.

Workplaces can serve a similar purpose. While you might not be looking for a job just to make friends, you might form new relationships as a result of spending 40 hours of your week at work. Some workers are finding out that these friendships continue past the day they submit their resignation letters and into the days of collecting Social Security.

According to a new study by Dutch researchers, employees who retired within the last 10 years are more like to stay connected or form new workplace connections than retirees in the 1990s. Although we acknowledge most of our readers live in the U.S., the study’s findings make us wonder if our workers are all that different from the Dutch.

From the study:

“We found that those who retired more recently were more likely to maintain at least one personal tie after retirement than those who retired earlier. In other words we discovered that a particular relationship at work was so important that they decided to continue the relationship,” Cozijnsen says in a statement. “The notion that people lose their work-related ties after retirement, because they no longer see one another at work, needs to be reconsidered, in terms of well-being and the aging process.”

Workplaces are the new what?
The news blurb discussing the study refers to “the workplace as the ‘new neighborhood.’” Declaring an old thing a new thing is always risky because not everyone agrees. Are blogs really the new newspaper? Is 40 really the new 30? That’s for you to decide, but apparently workplaces are where many people create lasting friendships.

In fact, Gallup research finds not only that many workers have workplace friendship, but that they also are more engaged employees.  From their surveys:

Our research revealed that just 30 percent of employees have a best friend at work. Those who do are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well being, and are less likely to get injured on the job. In sharp contrast, those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1-in-12 chance of being engaged.

Having someone to pass the time with and who lifts your spirits can have a positive affect on your performance. Who knew?

One-third of your waking hours
If you crunch the numbers, maybe these findings shouldn’t be that surprising. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you work a standard 40-hour week with traditional office hours and get your recommended eight hours of sleep each night. (Obviously this assumption doesn’t work for everyone, but it makes the math simpler.) There are 168 hours in a week and you’re only awake for 112 of them. You’re at work for 40 of those hours, and the remaining 72 are spent traveling to and from work, doing chores and spending time with your loved ones. Roughly one-third of your waking hours are spent at work. Doesn’t forming some sort of meaningful bond make sense?

As Tom Rath and James K. Harter point out in their Gallup piece, even workers who aren’t surrounded by colleagues can make connections. You don’t have to work in a sea of cubicles or a bustling retail store to form bonds with your co-workers. E-mail, IMs and phone calls take the place of water-cooler talk for people who work at home or in remote offices. These communication tools also make it easy to stay in touch once you’ve moved on to another job and ultimately once you’ve retired.

Not everyone wants to have a close friend at work. Some workers are understandably opposed to mixing professional and personal relationships. Many businesses have strict policies against it.

As we continue to recover from massive layoffs and a rough economy, can you continue to form those bonds? Are those friendships the ones that make the hardships easier? Where do you fall on the issue: Do you make long-lasting friends at work (and beyond) or do you keep it strictly professional?

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