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Career Development Quarterly





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Recently, researchers have identified a number of social behaviors considered important for job success. Important social skills for entry-level employees include following instructions, clarifying instructions, providing assistance, and providing job-related information to co-workers (Buehler, 1969; Johnson & Mithaug, 1978; Rusch, Schutz, & Agran, 1982; Salzberg, Agran, & Lignugaris/Kraft, in press). Researchers have also recognized that these behaviors must be examined in the context in which they occur in the workplace (Berkson & Romer, 1980; Brody & Stoneman, 1977).

The context of a social interaction might be described in terms of the job setting in which the interaction occurs (e.g., restaurant, production line), the general activity within which the interaction occurs (e.g., during lunch, break, or during work), the number and kinds of people participating in the interaction, and its length. Hersen, Eisler, and Miller (1974), referring to the limited generalization effects found in the assertiveness literature, suggested that adequate social performance requires response skills as well as knowledge about the context in which these responses are appropriate. That is, appropriate social interactions are those that conform to social norms and conventions that are dependent on context (Morrison & Bellack, 1981).

Work trainers and vocational counselors could use information about the context of social interactions in the workplace when designing social skills training programs. Information that would be of interest includes (a) how much social interaction occurs during breaks and work, (b) how much social interaction occurs in pairs compared to larger groups, and (c) what are the durations of social interactions during breaks and work. The purpose of this research was to examine social interactions and their social context during work and breaks in sheltered and nonsheltered work settings.

A few studies have addressed social interactions either during breaks or during work (Berkson & Romer, 1980; Levy & Gloscoe, 1984; Lignugaris/Kraft, Rule, Salzberg, & Stowitschek, 1986). Berkson and his colleagues observed social interaction patterns of developmentally disabled workers exclusively during lunch and breaks in four sheltered workshops. The workers observed interacted with co-workers most of the time. Their interactions were largely in pairs and occurred with a number of different co-workers. In addition, the types and amounts of social interaction among employees were stable across sheltered work settings during lunch and break times. In another study, Levy and Gloscoe (1984) observed handicapped workers in two sheltered workshops and nonhandicapped workers in a large factory exclusively during work times. High rates of conversation were recorded for both groups while workers performed assembly tasks or worked on production lines.

Social interaction patterns during both breaks and work were not examined in either of these studies. Thus, there is limited knowledge of how the social interaction patterns during break and work times might be similar or different. Further, it is not currently known if similar amounts and types of social interaction occur in sheltered and nonsheltered work settings. An optimal data base to prepare developmentally disabled individuals for work should include information about social interactions in work situations with nonhandicapped as well as handicapped individuals (Levy & Gloscoe, 1984; Lingnugaris/Kraft et al., 1986; Rusch, 1979; Schutz & Rusch, 1982).

In this study we examined social interactions during breaks and work in sheltered and nonsheltered work settings. In the first study, social interactions of developmentally disabled workers were examined during breaks and work in two sheltered workshops. In the second study, the social interactions of both handicapped and nonhandicapped employees were studied in the same nonsheltered work setting.


Reprinted from The Career Development Quarterly, 35, 1986 page 123. © 1986 The American Counseling Association. Reprinted with permission. No further reproduction authorized without written permission from the American Counseling Association.