Top 4 Reasons for Declining Camaraderie – Part 2 of 3

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Last week, my post discussed observed declines in camaraderie across the past five decades in my office. I asked retirees and long-time employees to fill out a survey about their activities during the decades they’d been working here. This post will discuss the survey results and their thoughts on the decline of camaraderie.
I asked participants to rate their attendance at various functions: parties, team events (golf, softball, volleyball, bowling), the annual picnic, and other non-working events with co-workers such as eating lunch together, friday night happy hour events, fishing, camping, and other get-togethers.  The ratings were numerical, with frequent (daily / weekly) being a “1” and never being a “5.”  I summed up  and averaged each person’s individual scores by decade, then averaged the group by decade.  The result is the graph below:

graph-2 (2)The participation score of this group is steadily dropping.  I didn’t include participation results after retirees left (some still attend picnics), so the results reflect their participation while they were working.  The trend is reflective of the “baby boomer” generation and includes my results as well.

So why don’t we spend time after hours with our co-workers like we did in earlier days?  Feedback from those I surveyed suggest the top four reasons for the decline, beginning with most frequently mentioned reason:

1. No Time

Several survey responses fit into this category, including parents having more child-centered events to attend and coach, and more two-worker families. Additionally, I remember we went through a reduction in force (RIF) back in the mid-1990s, and “did more with less.” As budget cuts and downsizing continued, and now workload has rebounded, we are now doing significantly more with less (and thankfully have been able to hire additional staff, unlike some federal agencies). As more is expected at work, there is less energy for “play” after work.  This is supported in national reports of work/life balance.

2. Cynicism & Low Morale

The impact of less time and more work is often low morale. Budget cuts, pay freezes, reorganizations, relocations (we’ve moved several times during my tenure) all add to worker stress. While we strive to be resilient, often there are corners of cynicism and low morale. So which came first? Did low morale result in poorer attendance at agency events? Or did the workload and scheduling complications result in the scheduling of fewer agency events, which then led to lower morale?  Low morale impacts agency production, and  can lead to disgruntled employees just counting the hours.  It’s important to address low morale first, before requiring attendance at agency functions (“forced fun”).  Increases in paperwork, bureaucracy, regulations, and restrictions, while needed, can leave workers feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.  The last thing many employees want to do is spend more time with co-workers during their time off.

3. Technology vs. Face-to-Face

Just imagine your office today without computers, email, Blackberries, cell phones, and webinars! That’s what offices used to be like, back when documents were TYPED, and meetings were in person. It was definitely a slower, less hectic atmosphere. These days, we often email others within our section (even in the next cubicle!) rather than stop by in person. Webinars are encouraged, as they are less expensive than traveling to seminars. Even at lunch and while on temporary duty, Blackberries and cell phones insist on transmitting messages from the office, distracting us from the company we are keeping. Technology has improved efficiency in many ways, but it has also facilitated multi-tasking, which results in staff not being fully present even when able to travel to a meeting, or meet with a sponsor or permit applicant. The very items that have vastly expanded our research capabilities also pulls us away from the present company.  Ironically, “social connection = technology” for many millennials, but these same electronics can also impact social connectedness by reducing face-to-face time.

4. Varied Work Schedules

The advent of flextime and teleworking during this timeframe has reshaped the workplace in unexpected ways. I love that we now have the ability to vary our starting and ending times at work, and have the ability to work at home occasionally, and was surprised to see this listed as a possible impact to camaraderie. But this is why – people used to all arrive at work at the same time, take lunch at the same time, then leave work at the same time. While rigid, this schedule facilitated lunchtime activities and post-work “Friday afternoon clubs” since there was no question what time anyone was done working. I’m not an advocate for returning to a more structured schedule, but I do see how varied schedules and workplaces can limit opportunities for celebration, and therefore impact the “group bonding” of a section or branch.  I’ve not seen supporting articles online, but this has been suggested by several retirees.

What do you think are the reasons for declining camaraderie in your workplace? Maybe you haven’t seen the same decline that we have. Post your thoughts in the comments below. We can’t turn back time, eliminate electronics, or lessen workload, but we there are some things we can do to try to revive camaraderie. Check out my next post for ideas!

Becky Latka is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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19 Comments

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Steven Battle

You’re being coy in not noting the fear that a lot of folks have of swirling political correctness requirements and the possibility of harassment scenarios while socializing. Zero tolerance to workplace harassment (the agreed goal, right?) parlays into folks who don’t want any more time of exposing themselves to such dangers than they already have to expose themselves to.

Profile Photo Becky Latka

Good point, Steven, and actually something that was brought up by a couple respondents to my survey. I lumped those comments under “Cynicism / Low Morale” but perhaps they deserve separate mention, as increased concerns with political correctness does influence trust, which influences friendships and camaraderie. I touched on this briefly in my earlier blog, Workplace Friendships. Until you get to know someone, it’s sometimes hard to know what will be considered offensive.

Doug Lieb

I agree with most of the overall concept of this article. I have heard it echoed throughout the halls that as we have had to do more with less this also means the budget to create the “forced fun” activities became less available. Less eventually becomes not at all. Even when you do plan an after work activity that is not associated with work people always seem to have something else to do. Ask them what they did instead and its “sat at home” or “did a chore” that easily could have been post phoned. This I think supports the work and other activities burning up free time wear us out. Add to that the catch 22 of we don’t have know each other outside of work, so we struggle with will it even be fun to “hang out”. But the only way to learn about each other and build a possible friendship that is needed to support the after work get togethers is by stepping out of comfort zone and giving it shot.

Becky Latka

I agree! There used to be a “habit” of spending time together, and as that habit diminished over time, it’s harder to overcome the inertia of newness to get social activities going again.

Profile Photo Brenda Dennis

Becky you hit the nail on the head with low morale. I think until there can be a resolution to that, people are less likely to want to engage after work because it continues the same negativity. Events that are fun and social but work toward a goal of helping others is a way to start. People can get behind a cause, particularly if it’s one that is reflected in the mission of the agency.

Becky Latka

Brenda – perfect idea, and in my next post I will discuss ways to revive camaraderie, one of which is helping for a cause (in our case, it’s Brush Up Nebraska, a painting activity for houses of elderly low-income folks).

Profile Photo Terrence Hill

You didn’t mention leadership as a factor, but great leaders are able to rally the troops regardless of their work locations, schedules, or time. Work itself could be a team effort and camaraderie can happen during the day. Not just after work.

Becky Latka

Leadership definitely affects morale, and I did get some survey comments about that. Leadership that is involved and cares about the workforce will have greater success with after work social activities.

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Interesting post. One item I’ve seen is offices that have it good usually have one good “connector” who takes the reins in organizing something. I’ve seen that be a regular monthly happy hours, a morning work-out group, a toastmasters group, and more. Without that key “connector”, the items seem forced and often folks don’t show but if you have at least 1 nice connector it can usually work.

I also hadn’t thought of that as a downside of telework or alternative work schedule but I can see that happening without a forced planning

Profile Photo Becky Latka

Ah..good point about the “connector!” We did have a key connector for social events and we struggled with events after she retired. We also had a key connector for organizing lunch, and he retired not long after she did. Others in the group picked up the social organizing to a point, but we’d all relied on those two for so long that it was hard to shift gears.

Profile Photo Jocelyn

I loved this article and can see the results of your survey reflected in my own office. I couldn’t agree with you more that the low morale needs to be addressed before any “fun” work activities are planned.

Profile Photo Becky Latka

Thanks Jocelyn! Low morale is tough to treat when so many of the factors (workload, funding, leadership, etc) are outside of an individual person’s control. But on the positive side, establishing a culture of gratefulness for having a job, for good co-workers, etc. can help.

Michele

In my office we used to get together for pot luck lunches several times a year and just have fun for an hour. Now I can’t hardly rally anyone to come. Just seems like no one cares about each other anymore, truly sad. Just the other day I heard of a man who had died over the weekend and his co-workers didn’t even check up on him for days. Makes you wonder what we have become.

Profile Photo Becky Latka

It’s sad, Michele, that we spend so much time in our cubicles watching computer screens. We may be trending toward more isolation, which does not foster the team-building and group support that can benefit an office. The actual work these days is more computer-related, so it’s understandable that we spend so much time alone, but I don’t think that it’s healthy.

Jocelyn H.

One caveat to all of this is competition. With so much downsizing that is going on, people are staying in their positions longer. Whether this is due to the economy being so expensive that older groups (baby boomers) can’t afford to retire, or the fact that there are less positions to fill, there just isn’t enough jobs to go around. Or jobs of higher pay aren’t being vacated either. This causes stress and worry for almost everyone; especially those who are trying to get a head. Therefore, with jobs becoming more and more scarce, people tend to stay to themselves more because they do not want to reveal something about themselves that could cause them to not get hired for a higher position.

Profile Photo Becky Latka

Good point! I noticed increased competition within our office, however this wasn’t a reason brought up by others in my survey. There were many reasons for the increase in competition, but one reason I suspected was the transition from our TAPES performance system to the NSPS (pay for performance) system. With a very limited amount of monetary rewards, there was a noticeable shift toward a more competitive atmosphere at the expense of cooperation, mentoring, and camaraderie (in my opinion).

Tracey Cain

Workplace layout and space set aside for non-work (lunchroom, break-room) matters. If the only place you have to spend time with your co-workers is at their desk or in a meeting room, it’s not facilitating camaraderie. Once I converted a room into a break area, morale and connections between employees improved. However, every time they talk about moving our offices they remark about how much space we “earn” per person, and it sure doesn’t include any space for taking a break!

Becky Latka

Oh we have similar “space per person” constraints! We used to have a coffee pot and treats in the cubicle belonging to someone who left, but we have thankfully been able to secure some temporary help, but need the “coffee cube” to house that person.

JIm Janicek (JJ)

At times there were low morale but we still had fun especially during the holidays whether we stayed in or went out. Today it seems that everyone coming in that is new stays for a while then they move on.