Holiday office parties may do more harm than good
Washington – A new study has found that office holiday bashes, which are thrown with the intention of promoting team unity, leave members of racially diverse groups feeling more disconnected than connected from other co-workers.
The study was conducted by Columbia Business School Professor Katherine Phillips, Ohio State University’s Professor Tracy Dumas, and the Wharton School’s Professor Nancy Rothbard.
Phillips said that the results are quite ironic, as managers think these well-intentioned attempts at promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace have a positive effect on employees, yet the study shows that these exercises are not helping to bridge interracial gaps.
This could be a huge roadblock for companies wanting to leverage their full potential in the competitive global marketplace, Phillips asserted.
To test the assumption that colleagues who attend social events together will feel a closer sense of connection and bonding to each other, the researchers conducted two studies.
The first study focused on 228 MBA students and asked them about their previous employment opportunities. The second study involved a nationally representative sample of 141 individuals in the US workforce.
The research team also collected information on the participants’ demographic characteristics, family structure, and work tenure.
Both studies concluded that team-building exercises made people feel closer, but only when the co-workers were of similar racial backgrounds.
For those of racially dissimilar backgrounds from their colleagues, the study discovered some of the discomfort comes from discussions during these social events that often times highlight differences between the groups.
To explore why racially dissimilar colleagues are still attending office social gatherings despite feeling uncomfortable, Phillips and her research partners asked respondents, “Why are you motivated to attend company-related social events?”
The researchers found that racially dissimilar group members felt a sense of obligation and pressure to attend. For example, they felt attending would improve their work status, help them score higher on a performance appraisal, and/or score points with their manager.
The study is published in the journal Organization Science.