There is a stigma when it comes to work socialization. It may appear to compromise the overall productivity in an office, but when socialization complements hard work, there are certainly benefits to be gained for morale, moving up the corporate ladder and even productivity.
Shira Offer and Barbara Schneider's sociological paper titled "Occupational Conditions, Socializing at Work, and Informal Social Support: Different Dynamics for Men and Women" discusses the different motivations and needs people have for socializing at work. Men tend to find socialization important for work progress and are almost strategic about it. Women, on the other hand, socialize at work for a feeling of mutual support and camaraderie, not work advancement.
Work can be stressful, so finding support from those in the same boat can help make it more enjoyable and easier to do. Unpleasant work environments aren't good for you or for your employer, and the interactions among colleagues play a major role in happy working conditions.
According to Mainstreet, a business and financial source for news and advice, socializing with co-workers makes the time go by faster, can make you more productive and encourages communication and teamwork.
However, finding the right balance of socialization and productivity is important. Always remember that the point of working is work and that you have a job to do. This doesn't mean the experience has to be the low point of your day every day, though.
The first step to friendly socialization at work, according to Intern 101 -- a place for new architectural professionals to learn the ins and outs of the working world -- is to be respectful to everyone at the office. From the receptionist to the cleaners, everyone deserves respect and a smile. You don't get to choose your co-workers, and not everyone will be your best friend, but the ability to work together with respect and without drama certainly goes a long way toward creating a pleasant office space. Even a simple "Good morning!" or "I hope you have a good weekend!" said with a smile does the job.
Once you do start developing friendships, make sure you choose your friends wisely. Office gossips are fun to spend time with, but you may end up the subject of their banter to others. Always make sure you can trust someone before sharing personal and private information at the office. This also means knowing your boundaries. Avoid topics that may make your co-workers uncomfortable. Until you know them and your environment, it's best not to step on any toes. This can impact your career at the company and your relationship with co-workers.
A great way to develop banter with anyone in your office is to attend company activities, lunches and events during and after work. Going out of your way to invite someone to join you for lunch is always a kind gesture and a way to be more relaxed around the people you see every day. Always jump on an opportunity to get to know someone in the office better. Besides generating a support network, you may find new people to go to for help when you're stuck with a problem or who will remember you when a new position opens.
When your co-workers do talk to you, make sure to listen. Instead of only imparting knowledge, take the time to be supportive for them. Support goes both ways, so ask questions and avoid making judgments.
It's also important to remember that hierarchies exist. Whether you have been promoted above your work friends or manage new people, it's always a good idea to keep some detachment between yourself and others during work hours to maintain professionalism, but it's still possible to be friendly and supportive.
If you don't have social support or other things that make the workday a better experience, your production and morale will be negatively affected. A stifling environment isn't one most people want to be in every day, so if, after you try to create a better atmosphere, your co-workers or managers discourage friendly interactions, it might be time to find a new environment or some after-work activities more suited to you.
If you're able to escape your shell and find a new network of friends in the office, then each day should be a little brighter, and the office may not be such a terrible place.