Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

This is Episode 400! We are happy to hit this key milestone! Thank you for being a listener of All Ears English. We love our listeners!

Do you know how to navigate friendships and boundaries in the American workplace?

Find out how to connect and when not to connect at your job in the US in today’s episode.

We found an interesting article in the NY Times by Adam Grant. The article is called Friends at Work? Not So Much.

The article said that in 1985, 50% of Americans had close friends at work but by 2004 that number dropped down to 30%.

This tells us that these days the people at work are no longer our “second family.”

The vibe or atmosphere at work is more polite but impersonal.

However, it really depends on your field.

Michelle used to work in radio and she worked with a close-knit group of friends so she had a different experience.

Why have Americans become impersonal at work?

  • Careers are changing: We no longer stick with the same company for our entire career. People freelance, they have multiple jobs, they switch jobs quickly. They don’t have a chance to develop the type of connections that they used to.
  • Virtual work and flex time are more common: A lot of people are working from home where it’s much harder to build close relationships.
  • People don’t feel the need to build new connections: The article suggested that if you can be on Facebook all day with your Facebook friends then why should you bother forming new friendships at work?
  • Protestant work ethic: This goes back to US history. The term “goofing off” means to play around and to not work. Historically this has been looked down upon in US culture.

What should you keep in mind if you work in the US?

  • Know the boundaries: Don’t ask about people’s relationship or family status. It’s rude to say, “So are you married?”
  • Ask people what you can call them: Don’t assume you can use their first name or their title like “Dr.” or “Mr.”
  • Try to have in-person meetings when possible: Make an effort to get to know your colleagues and see what happens. If you are working online from home, meet them once per month in a cafe.
  • Try to open up at work: Start small. If someone asks you how your weekend was they might not expect much of a response but say more than “it was great.” Instead, give them bits and pieces like “I went hiking” and see how they react. Do they ask a follow up question? Do they share something about themselves?

Leave us a comment.

What do you think?

What’s the workplace culture like in your country?

Do people tend to become close with their colleagues?

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