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Social Disclosure Among Coworkers

In work settings, employee friendships are characterized as work acquaintances, work friends, and or social friends.

Work Acquaintances are coworkers with whom a worker knows through formal contacts in the work place. Interactions between the two are tasked oriented and not characterized by liking or disliking one another.

Work Friends are coworkers with whom a worker interacts socially at work. These individuals may get together at break or over lunch. Their socialization is limited to the work place. They do not engage in joint leisure activities outside of the work setting.

Social Friends are coworkers with whom a worker meets at social events outside the work setting.

Job coaches who build a relationship with coworkers without disabilities and encourage them to talk about personal information, may be able to utilize this information to facilitate opportunities for supported employees to interact with their coworkers.

Ohtake and Chadsey (1999) conducted a study to look at the social disclosure among coworkers without disabilities in supported employment settings. They used two dimensions to measure the depth and breath of social disclosure.

Depth was defined as the level of detail given on a topic. For example, talking about a kind of party you enjoy as compared to describing who participated in the party, why you were invited, what happened at the party, and why you enjoyed the party.

Breath refers to the number of major topics, such as music, sports, news events, etc, discussed.

The Ohtake and Chadsey (1999) study revealed that nearly all coworkers without disabilities had work acquaintances, work friends, and social friends in their employment setting. However, although supported employees were identified as work acquaintances and friends, they were not identified as social friends.

  • 40% of coworkers without disabilities identified supported employees as work acquaintances.

  • 62% of coworkers without disabilities identified supported employees as work friends.

  • None of the supported employees were considered as social friends by the coworkers without disabilities.

  • Coworkers without disabilities disclosed themselves to their social friends in greater depth and breath than to their work friends and work acquaintances.

  • Coworkers without disabilities disclosed themselves more in depth and breath to supported employees identified as work friends than they did to those identified as work aquantances.

Ohtake and Chadsey suggest that the findings may have implications for supported employees who want to develop relationships with their coworkers without disabilities. Learning to participate in lunch and break time conversations may enhance opportunities for the development of social friendships. Many individuals with mental retardation have not had the opportunity to learn and refine social skills in work settings. This study suggests that supported employees with mental retardation should be taught how to talk about thoughts and feelings. For example, they could be taught to initiate discussions with their work acquaintances through statements such as, What's Up?; Did you enjoy the Oscars last night?; or I Think Gonzaga really played well, what do you think?

Having a social friend in the work place may be an important goal for supported employees. The resources best able to provide supports are coworkers or supervisors. Coworkers or supervisors who are friends with a worker with mental retardation are more likely to provide supports, such as physical assistance or advice, as well as emotional support.


Ohtake, Y. and Chadsey, Janis G. (1999). Social Disclosure Among Coworkers Without Disabilities in Supported Employment Settings. Mental Retardation, Vol. 37, No. 1, pages 25-35.


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