When Pauline Caporaletti and her husband moved to the East Valley six years ago, she didn’t know a soul. She took a job at a church and, within six months, found a friend in her co-worker, Nancy.
"I knew if something was going on at home, I could go to work and talk to her about it," says Caporaletti, who lives in Mesa.
The women spent their lunch hours playing dominos and talking. They caught chick flicks and went out to eat off the clock. Caporaletti took a new job six months later, but she still maintains a friendship with Nancy.
Caporaletti says colleagues have formed the core of her social circle for most of her adult life, a trend among American workers.
"We increasingly see the line between work and play blurred in many places," says Vince Waldron, professor of communication studies at Arizona State University. "People’s notions of social community have changed and, for a lot of people, the workplace provides their community."
Increasing hours are spent with colleagues, while less time is reserved for building relationships outside the office. It’s no wonder work and social worlds intersect.
"It’s more common for workers who don’t have families at home and don’t have kids," says Waldron. "For a lot of people, kids are the connection to schools, clubs and other areas where their community connection comes from."
Caporaletti, who doesn’t have children, says she does find it difficult to break into established social groups in new cities. That’s why friendly coworkers are important.
She almost left a teaching position this year at the International Institute of the Americas in Mesa when friendships didn’t materialize.
"The problem with teaching is that it’s a very solitary profession," she says. "You go to your classroom and you teach and leave. It was hard to feel connected to that place of employment. Relationships make the job for me."
It wasn’t until she started working at the school full time, and an administrative role was added to her duties, that Caporaletti made connections.
"I’m getting used to people and feeling out whether or not they’re interested in developing friendships," she says. "I feel so much more inclined to stay there now. I feel more invested."
Building personal relationships that transcend the workplace is natural. Colleagues share common interests in their work and spend much of their time together.
There are also bonding opportunities — demanding projects, shared experiences and goals.
Friendships within a company can create a pleasant environment where people are more likely to assist each other, says Waldron.
"People who are friendly are also more likely to share information freely," he says. "It opens the communication network."
But when people draw their social contacts from work alone, the results can be detrimental.
"What happens when things go bad at work or the organization starts letting people go?" says Waldron. "If there’s a radical change, if the culture changes, if people leave, your whole social network goes down the tubes."
It’s best to have social connections in other areas. This is especially true today, when lifelong employment at one company is rare.
Judith Forner of Mesa has changed jobs frequently in the last 25 years. But at each stop along her career path, Forner developed lasting relationships.
"I just don’t believe in this idea that you shouldn’t fraternize with the people you work with," says Forner. "They can make the best of friends."
Some former co-workers moved out of state, but most returned for her wedding in Las Vegas four years ago. She’s stood up in many of their weddings as well.
Now that Forner is retired, she has a wide range of relationships to draw from thanks to the connections she made with co-workers from various jobs.
Having a diverse social circle is essential for retired workers, says Waldron.
"When people retire they feel socially isolated since they got their identity from what others said about them at work, and they feel identity-less," he says. "It’s like the spider web. If it hangs by one thread, it’s less strong than having a network of social connections."