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Increase Productivity at Work by Socializing with Colleagues

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RISMEDIA, Feb. 14, 2008-(MCT)-The rules are simple: The first time you ride, you eat breakfast for free. The second time, you buy for everybody. If you don’t ride for 90 days, you buy for everybody when you do.

Who makes the rules? “We make them up as we go along,” laughs Ken Czubay, one of several JM Family Enterprises workers who take to the road on motorcycles each Sunday morning. The group, which numbers from three to 30, traditionally ends up at John G’s restaurant on the beach in Lake Worth.

For such outside activities by employees, Deerfield Beach-based JM Family was noted as a “social standout,” in Fortune magazine’s recently released “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. Other South Florida companies on the list also have employees who “work and play” together.

Workers say getting together outside the office strengthens relationships at work. It gives them the opportunity to know people in the organization they might not otherwise, and can help avert conflict.

Office productivity also improves when co-workers are friends outside the office, according to 57% of executives polled by Accountemps, a staffing firm.

“I promote friendships. I think they develop support systems, which leads to high productivity,” said Scott McKenna, branch manager for Accountemps in Fort Lauderdale.

Co-worker friendships are rarely a problem, he says, unless there’s too much chatting at work. A worker also might be afraid to challenge a friend at work, McKenna says, which can present problems.

Czubay, who also is a manager, thinks workers mostly benefit from socializing. Workers at all levels of the company are welcome in the motorcycle group he started 18 years ago.

“It broadens the JM Family experience, the commitment that all associates receive consideration,” says Czubay, president of Southeast Toyota Distributors, a subsidiary of JM Family, and the owner of a Harley, Yamaha and Ducati.

International cuisine is the social catalyst among Fort Lauderdale employees of Kimley-Horn & Associates, an engineering firm. About 20 workers gather with spouses and friends at a different restaurant every few months.

“It’s especially for people from out of town, who have relocated here,” says Shanda Layne, an administrative assistant who coordinates the event. “You see people in a more relaxed setting. … It helps people get to a more personal level. We’re not just robots that come to work.”

Friendly competition often is part of work-related socialization.

Kimley-Horn workers play basketball on Saturdays, with the Fort Lauderdale office competing against the Miami Beach or Dadeland branch. “It’s good for our health,” Layne says.

Poker and tennis are the games of choice for some Baptist Health South Florida workers.

Lab employees at Baptist’s Homestead Hospital have been getting together to play poker for two years.

“When you’re outside of work you can talk about things that you can’t talk about inside,” says Barbara Drago, a lab supervisor who participates in the friendly poker games, often Texas Hold ‘em.

Work is a topic for those in the car pool going to play on the corporate tennis team, says Tanya Walton, who organized Baptist’s corporate tennis team. Team members come from marketing, finance, nutrition, planning and media services.

“I’ve met a couple people I’ve never worked with before. … We learn about what’s happening in other parts of the company,” says Walton, a public relations manager with Baptist Health. “You end up being really good friends.”

Still, co-workers have to be thick-skinned to play on the team, which participates in a World TeamTennis corporate league. The team made the national finals in 2006.

“We can substitute someone else, and you can’t take it personally. It’s for the team,” Walton says.

Success breeds more interest and sticky situations. “We’ve started a buzz. A couple of executives want to be on our team,” she says.

Will team captain Walton let them join the team? “If they’re good,” Walton says.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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