The Importance of a Socializing at Work—and How to Keep It Positive
Read Time: 6 minutes, 15 seconds
The pandemic made one thing very clear: social distancing is difficult, stressful, and a prime trigger for depression as well as poor health habits. Human beings are not the only social animals (so are dolphins, rabbits, and horses, for example), but all of them share this characteristic: a social life is critical to their very survival.
Within the SMaRT process, socializing provides the following benefits:
- A support system for maintaining resilience and mindfulness
- An increase in emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate
- Help in problem-solving and decision making
- The establishment of an environment of trust and mentoring
- A growth mindset
- Enhanced team synergy and collaboration skills
- A guard against stress, fear, and unhealthy habits.
In other words, your social self determines the outcome of every move you make toward self-improvement and achievement of your personal and professional goals.
Susan Albert, a researcher who studies baboons, has shown that during times when food is scarce, the baboons will hunt longer for food but will then sacrifice rest in order to maintain social ties. Working harder is not an excuse for decreasing social activity but an incentive to do everything possible to maintain it.
Whether you are an introvert or an extravert, you need social interaction. Work environments that support the social self—preferably onsite but at least by providing and insisting on time away to relax and socialize—will be healthier, happier, and more productive.
What Influences Social Opportunities at Work?
One of the least successful attempts to increase interaction at work was the trend toward an open floor plan. As reported in a Harvard Business Review article, several studies have shown that the openwork detracts from rather than aids socializing. People get the space and time they need to focus by avoiding eye contact, using headphones or selective deafness to avoid interaction, or simply walking away. In fact, face-to-face communication in one open office dropped 70% through as people used the same methods they employed in, say, airports or doctor’s waiting rooms to gain personal privacy.
On the other hand, the studies found that the closer people are in physical space, the more they interact with each other. Interactions between team members are more frequent and more successful than those between teams. However, remote workers on the same team communicate about 80% less than their peers, chiefly because of the physical distance.
Social interactions at work are also influenced by the right kinds of events—again, this depends on the team—including training opportunities, workshops, and, yes, food. At one engineering company, social interaction soared at a book exchange, where employees brought in books they no longer wanted and picked up interesting books that others had dropped off.
The takeaway from these studies is that the preferences of the team have the biggest influence on social interactions at work; every team has its preferred style. However, in general, work teams communicate better and socialize more productively if they are grouped close to each other, yet separate from other teams, and when individuals are able to withdraw when necessary. Privacy is as basic a need as socializing.
TIP: A team benefits from having both extroverts and introverts; chose a variety of social activities to suit each type.
Why Is Socializing at Work Important?
While many animals are social, human beings seem to be the only ones who socialize strategically, using our social sense to gain a goal, help someone else, or influence and manipulate other people. Our social experience affects the stereotypes we believe in and our assessments of other people. Investigators into the development of our social thinking, cite these four demands made by social interaction:
- Recognizing people and how they feel about us
- Keeping track of who is a friend and who is a foe
- Anticipating other people’s behavior
- Evaluating other people’s behavior and responding appropriately.
Clearly, anyone who fails at those four basic demands will have a difficult time working in a team, following through on a goal that requires cooperation or finding support for their efforts. If you stifle socializing at work, you will reap the results in greater turnover, less trust and loyalty, greater stress, less enjoyment from work, and more secretive behavior and gossip.
How Do You Promote Positive Socializing at Work?
As the answers to the previous questions have shown, people will socialize whether or not the organization and its leaders condone it. The only choice available is whether to allow socializing to happen entirely spontaneously or to exercise some control.
You promote positive social interactions at work through:
- Standards of behavior. Respectful and inclusive behavior is paramount; shunning, shaming, and bullying are not tolerated. You may want to come up with some standards for using electronic devices during social occasions.
- Avoidance of trigger topics. Political and religious discussions and activities do not belong in most workplaces (an exception being made for political and religious organizations).
- Provision of comfortable areas for socializing. The water cooler, coffee pot, break room—employees need welcoming, comfortable areas where they can relax. A couch in the lady’s room does not count.
- Opportunities to socialize organized by the company. Those opportunities should be voluntary, should not burden employees with additional responsibilities, and should not demand a sacrifice of employee time and money outside of work.
What the team decides to do on its own—a group lunch, a potluck, a skiing expedition—needs to meet fewer requirements but should still be respectful and inclusive.
TIP: Talk privately to individuals who act inappropriately in social situations, such as constantly interrupting others, standing too close, speaking much too loudly, or overindulging in liquor. These acts may be signs that the person needs coaching or professional help in understanding social mores.
What Can You Do If You Find Socializing Difficult?
Socializing becomes more difficult the more you focus on your social skills and what other people think of you. In reality, the simple acts of saying hello to coworkers in the morning, smiling, using good manners (“thank you” is always important), and listening attentively are all social acts that others appreciate—and many people forget in their rush from one social activity to another.
By strictly regulating the amount that you socialize, you can also control your stress and fear over socializing. For example, if your team meets every day for lunch, arrange to join them once a week to show your interest in them without forcing yourself further. You might also volunteer for a role in social engagements (taking notes during meetings, bringing in snacks, getting tickets, researching restaurants), which gives you a social presence without placing too much demand on your limited resources for interaction.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by work contacts, try the occasional (not 24/7) use of headphones or take a quick walk to another, less populated part of the building. If someone at work interests you, particularly if that person is more outgoing than you are, work on forming that one friendship so that you do not entirely isolate yourself. Extroverts appreciate introverts who listen when they talk!
Use SMaRT techniques to improve your self-confidence and growth mindset; connect with a coach or mentor if you find yourself stuck; and be patient with yourself.
TIP: Extroverts may find that they need to exercise self-management and get into the habit of active listening, to give time for introverts to find their voice.
Socializing at work has positive benefits for individual and team health, trust, and engagement. However, the greatest benefit comes from spontaneous, not forced, socializing and from events that take into account both extroverts and introverts on the team. Socializing at work has been shown to increase productivity, reduce turnover, and alleviate stress.