Befriending Your Boss: the Good and the Bad
Being able to work well with others has long been considered a desirable personality trait both in the workplace and in a casual setting. In the modern workplace, however, this is no longer the case. A significant number of companies are now so strongly discouraging fraternization in the workplace that it is often even considered reasonable grounds for dismissal. The companies claim it is necessary to create a fair and productive work environment, but with these benefits comes a host of cascading effects that influence the surrounding community as a whole.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, fraternization is defined as “associating with others in a brotherly or congenial way”. It has become an increasingly popular trend to ban such friendly socialization between different occupational rankings such as floor managers and sales personnel. Workers are divided into classes based on ability, responsibility, and salary, then told that intermingling in a “brotherly way” between classes is forbidden. Companies such as Whole Foods, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pfizer, Charles River, and previously Guardsmark have all attempted to implement policies regulating social conduct. The goal of these policies is essentially to minimize the risk to the company associated with being accountable for issues in the workplace regarding relationships. For instance, the concept of favoritism has always been a heated topic in the business world. Policies that discourage having personal relationships outside of the workplace are an attempt to discourage higher-level management employees from developing favoritism towards certain individuals and creating an uncomfortable and unfair labor environment. These policies also help prevent liability for sexual harassment charges in the case of romantic relationships and make the process of transferring employees much less difficult (it is easier facilitate transferring one person than two).
All of these rationalizations for implementing a social management plan seem reasonable, but it is the unwritten effects of these policies that seem to have gone unaddressed. These rules affect employees every time they go to work, governing their interactions for hours a day. In addition to protecting the company and its assets, having a strict social hierarchy inspires competition. This at first appears to be a benefit to the company by encouraging hard work, and it is. Workers are incited to compete with each other and are rewarded when they perform better than their co-workers. Being competitive allows an individual to gain respect within the company and move up the social hierarchy. This in turn increases productivity, allowing the company to expand faster and broaden its market. The catch is that with competition comes conflict, and with conflict comes furtiveness, followed by resentment and fear. Workers are not encouraged to develop quality relationships, they are actually discouraged from having any sort of relationship other than a specifically business-related one with their co-workers. This to me seems to send a negative message: “don’t be friends with the people you work with, use them as stepping stones to better yourself.” Although I believe self-betterment is a wonderful thing to strive for, I do not think it should come at the expense of those around you.
When people work against each other instead of with each other, someone is bound to be left behind. This seems counterintuitive to the goals of any company as a whole which should be moving forward together as a whole and advancing as a business, otherwise you might as well work alone. When competition is the mode of operation as opposed to cooperation, furtiveness becomes an overwhelming factor in the workplace. People will do anything they can to get where they need to be despite the well-being of those they work with, they have to so as not to be left behind. This fabricates resentment; people do not like to be treated unfairly, and some people really do not like it. Resentment leads to fear, creating an environment conducive to discomfort.
This collection of snowballing negative emotions affects everyone in the working community, decreasing the quality of job performance. Humans need to be emotionally stable to perform at their best, and this includes being able to go into work and be comfortable and compatible with the people around you. Unhappy employees do not care about their place of work, especially if they have no friends there. Everyone has worked at a job they do not like, and you just do not try as hard when your interest is diminished or you are not happy. A company that does not foster positive emotions is going to put itself at higher risk of being sued, stolen from, petitioned, or sabotaged in a variety of ways. For example, Guardsmark, a security services company, tried to implement a non-fraternization rule to help protect it from security breaches. The employees became infuriated and moved quickly to action, bringing the policy to court. The policy was found to violate National Labor Relations Act and was terminated.
By trying to make these social policies the norm, large businesses are subsequently diminishing the importance of community values such as working together towards common goals, helping those in need, and developing healthy relationships with those around you. They are creating an aggregation of people that work for corporate headquarters instead of for their own community. The well-being of neighbors is becoming unimportant, and self-advancement has become the primary mode of transportation. Basic human functions such as social interaction and emotion are being monitored and regulated with the intention of increased proficiency at work. But without the recognition of the social requirements of individuals, increased proficiency arrives hand-in-hand with an elevated sense of negativity and the destruction of what once was a community.