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The Simple Human Act That Can Protect Your Job

Why workplace schmoozing isn’t just fun, it’s strategic

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by Kara Baskin

Work
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There’s one in every office: The busy bee who’s always rallying people for happy hour, organizing a fantasy football team, or coordinating a farewell fete (even if it’s just cupcakes in the conference room). Turns out your colleague might not just be friendly—he or she might be shrewd, too.

Lynn Wu, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, found that sociable workers had better job security during the 2009 recession. Studying two years of electronic communications (email, chats, other things you might consider time-wasters) among more than 8,000 employees at a consulting firm, Wu broke down the communications into categories, including a social bucket: chatter about stuff like food or friendly banter about sports. Wu found that workers who used terms like “coffee,” “lunch,” and “baseball” in their e-communications were more resistant to layoffs than their less sociable colleagues. (Check out her video explaining the research.)

And here’s the really interesting part: Wu studied an industry—consulting—where value is typically calibrated in billable hours, not chit-chat. However, she says, “How much money you bring into the firm should be the ultimate value…. But in fact, what I found is that social communication has bigger power than objective performance [measures] in predicting whether individuals were laid off during the recession.”

Use of the sociability words trumped objective performance measures like billable hours in predicting whether a worker would get the boot. Possibly the social butterfly enables colleagues to perform better or acts like a team player, intangible but important factors in any workplace.

Wu says that her research shows that there’s value in being friendly. “It actually pays to get to know your co-workers, to understand what’s going on at a work force.” So maybe it’s finally time to join the company softball team.

if you’re curious, read her research paper, Social Network Effects on Productivity and Job Security.

Photo Credit: Image Source/Getty