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Friends at Work? Not So Much

Posted on by Brandon Klein

What will make workplaces less transactional? Research suggests that social events aren’t always effective: People don’t mix much at mixers, and at company parties, they mostly bond with similar colleagues.

Technology companies like Google and Facebook provide opportunities for shared games, sports, exercise and meals — and research suggests that playing together and eating together are good ways to foster cooperation. Meanwhile, LinkedIn has encouraged employees to take their personal lives to work by hosting Bring in Your Parents Day. And at organizations ranging from McKinsey to Chevron, an increasingly popular step is to build alumni networks, as universities do. As Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh observe in their book “The Alliance,” alumni networks can encourage employees to invest in relationships even when they won’t stay at jobs for decades.

Whether we bond at work is a personal decision, but it may involve less effort and vulnerability than we realize. Jane E. Dutton, a professor at the University of Michigan, finds that a high-quality connection doesn’t require “a deep or intimate relationship.” A single interaction marked by respect, trust and mutual engagement is enough to generate energy for both parties. However small they appear, those moments of connection can transform a transaction into a relationship.