Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy

By Cynthia Estlund | Go to book overview

2
CONNECTEDNESS IN THE WORKPLACE
A Sketch

Admittedly, it is perilous at best to generalize about work and “the workplace.” My workplace experience as a law professor, for example, would seem to have little in common with that of the fast-food server, the automobile assembly worker, the hospital orderly, or the file clerk. My experience shares little even with that of the urban public school teacher across Morningside Park or of the maintenance worker at my own law school. There are vast differences in pay, working conditions, status, authority, autonomy, and satisfaction from one job to another—differences that matter here, and to which chapter 3 is largely devoted. But it is necessary, as well as possible, to begin this account by considering some common features of workplace interaction.


Cooperation, Sociability, and Solidarity among Co-Workers

The workplace is, to begin with, one site of social connectedness that is claiming somewhat more rather than less of people's time. To be more specific: While adult men's work week and age of retirement have both declined slightly, women's commitment to the workforce—both their hours of work and the number of years they spend in the workforce—have increased dramatically over the past several decades. 1 I will have more to say in chapter 5 about the increasingly similar, though still distinct, commitments and trajectories of men and women in the workplace. But for the moment it is enough to observe that paid work, and even full-time work, is becoming a nearly universal experience of adult life, not a “separate sphere” dominated by men.

We have already taken note of the sheer amount of time that most adults spend at work. Moreover, even amidst talk of “free agency” and the demise of lifetime employment, employees often remain with the same organization and work with the same people day after day, over many years. Years of almost daily interactions inevitably give rise to social ties, and often friendships, among co-workers.

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