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More Fun at Work

Is it another fringe benefit for highly paid employees?

July 15 2004 - The best paid employees get the highest material benefits from working, but it also seems that they have the richest social lives.

A study published in a recent issue of the journal Social Science Quarterly found that highly paid workers were more likely to participate in social activities with co-workers. The highly paid also reported greater cohesion and solidarity among their colleagues.

"The social attractions of the workplace are strongest for those who are already rewarded with the biggest paychecks," said Randy Hodson, author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

According to Hodson, highly-paid employees tend to have jobs with more freedom and autonomy in which they can interact with their co-workers and develop friendships. They are also more likely to work in teams in which interaction with others is both necessary and encouraged.

On the other hand, lower-paid workers - for example, those in manufacturing - are likely to spend more time working with things, rather than people, and may not have the time to interact with their colleagues.

The research was based on a detailed analysis of 124 book-length studies of employees in a variety of workplace settings. Occupations included meat packers, taxi drivers, lawyers, doctors and people from a wide range of other jobs.

Hodson and three graduate students organized and coded information from all of these books to measure the degree and type of social interaction at a variety of workplaces from around the world. Hodson was then able to build a data set that allowed quantitative, statistical comparisons of different workplaces and different kinds of employees.

Results suggest that when people develop friendships at work, it is because they enjoy their work and co-workers, said Hodson.

"It is the carrot of having an enjoyable and well-paid job that leads to rich social lives at work, not the stick of worrying about job loss," Hodson said. "But of course, only some people are offered the carrot."

It appeared that women tended to report less rich social lives at work than men. The researchers found that this was because men tended to have jobs that made workplace friendships more likely. When women had jobs in which social interaction with co-workers was common, they tended to report similar on-the-job social lives to their male colleagues.

According to Hodson this research suggests that for many highly paid workers, there is not a conflict in which they feel forced to spend time away from their families in order to be at work.

"For people who have well-paying, interesting jobs, the workplace is a positive attraction that provides meaning and fulfillment in their lives," Hodson said.

"The friendships and camaraderie they have with their co-workers is part of the appeal of work. For these lucky employees, the workplace is a strong competitor for their time with home and home life."

Workaholism, then, may be partly the result of employees who truly enjoy their work and co-workers, and not necessarily a result of fearing for their jobs, Hodson said.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation.

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