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Social mixing in the workplace: a review of existing research

This literature review brings together existing academic research on social mixing in workplaces. The collected evidence shows that interactions between colleagues can strengthen bonds between different social groups, and we explore key findings to understand how and under what conditions workplace mixing is effective.

Just as positive attitudes between employees may not extend beyond the workplace, it can be hard to make the step from colleagues to friends.

Social mixing in the workplace

As part of our commitment to creating a more integrated society, The Challenge is
always looking for new opportunities to build bridges between people from different walks of life. A lot of us spend large portions of our lives at work, and we are often surrounded by a diverse mix of colleagues. But people often overlook workplaces when thinking about social integration. This literature review brings together academic research from a range of disciplines and summarises the current findings on workplace mixing.

Summary of key points

Why does the workplace matter for social integration?

  • Workplaces tend to be more diverse than other sites of interaction such as
    neighbourhoods, so they bring us into contact with people from different ethnic groups, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds
  • We can’t choose our colleagues – so workplaces break the natural tendency to
    mix with people who are similar to ourselves
  • Workplaces create opportunities for meaningful mixing – we cooperate with
    colleagues towards shared goals, and over time can develop friendships

What do we know from the existing research?

  • When we have positive interactions at work with people who are different from us, it can result in more positive attitudes, reduced prejudice, and higher levels of friendship
  • The quality of contact is important – interactions which are enjoyable, informal, or personal are more likely to have positive results
  • Good relations between colleagues do not always extend beyond the workplace

What do we need to understand better?

  • There is good evidence on the effects of workplace mixing on relations between different ethnic groups and generations – but more research is needed into how interactions at work can bridge socio-economic divides
  • How can we encourage interactions at work – what policies, behaviours, and
    programmes can maximise the potential for mixing?
  • Remote working, the gig economy, and automation are all reshaping the nature of work – what will the changing work behaviours mean for workplace socialising?