We had our annual "Do Not Do This" training. Interestingly, along with all of the normal "do nots" that were covered, the potential range of work interactions that could be problematic have expanded. It has expanded from at work to business activities outside of work (travel, company sponsored parties) to now after-work events not sponsored by work but at which supervisors ans workers are in the same place (e.g. "Happy Hours").
In other words, we seem to have reached the point where any association with anyone at your current place of employ under any circumstances is at best a risky thing and at worst, something to be completely avoided.
I find this to be a great disappointment.
Oh, I understand why businesses are acting this way in our hyper-litigious society: it is simple risk avoidance. The chances of something coming back to create issues for the company are virtually nil when you ensure that no employees ever associate anywhere. But I find it intensely disappointing from a personal level - and ultimately believe it will come back to destroy the work environment.
Not forming friendships with coworkers ultimately creates a sort of utilitarian atmosphere, where people are in direct contact 8 hours or more a day but hardly share anything about their lives - I know little about my coworkers and their situations except for what is displayed in their offices and what they may occasionally mention - and in this current and future environment, I would frankly be better off not knowing. The relationship becomes purely work related - and suddenly I understand something which has bothered me for the past 15 years, that people whom I worked long hours with suddenly disappear as soon as I left the company. It is not personal at all: it is just that the one thing we had linking ourselves has been dissolved and there is nothing left holding the relationship together.
If this trend continues (and I presume it will) I predict that we will find that people find themselves increasingly isolated and alone - after all, work long days and sleep and all you will have are relationships that end at the end of the work day and dissolve the moment you leave. Where people will find their support from becomes hard to imagine, other than a greater increase to relationships that are digital in nature and definitively have nothing to do with how most people spend their actual day. "What do you do for living?" will become a one sentence response - after all, who wants to dwell on the least satisfying portion of their life? Also, we should prepare for the fact that following the ending of our career we will have to completely rebuild our social networks as our relationships with coworkers will effectively be over.
At one time I believed the greatest thing would be work with people who are your friends or become them through work. Sadly (as with many other things in my life) I have become a relic. The best I or anyone else can hope for now is a workplace where the totality of the relationship begins, is consumed by, and ends when we enter and leave the doors.