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Maybe you should attend the next happy hour with your co-workers

CHAMPAIGN - If the 1961 Broadway hit “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” were updated to reflect today's workplace realities, the remake might feature the corporate-ladder climbing character “Finch” bowling, returning tennis serves or simply tossing back beers with his colleagues after work, according to a U of I press release written by Melissa Mitchell.

At least, that's the script U of I researchers might write, based on results of a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of Leisure Research.

While the U of I researchers focused their study on a more narrow sector of the American workforce  Korean immigrants living in Chicago  principal investigator Monika Stodolska, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism, said they have reason to believe that increased leisure-time associations with colleagues may universally lead to on-the-job success.

“One can postulate that its results can be applied not only to minorities, but also to mainstream Americans as well,” Stodolska and graduate student co-authors Matthew Marcinkowski and Jouyeon Yi-Kook (now at Seoul National University) concluded in their report.

The objective of the study was to determine whether ethnic enclosure in leisure among Korean immigrants had a negative or positive influence on their economic advancement in the United States. In this context, “ethnic enclosure” refers to the tendency of some immigrants to live, work and socialize within the confines of tightly knit communities, rather than assimilating and associating with “mainstream” Americans.

The research indicated that Korean immigrants who socialized with non-Koreans in leisure settings, who spent time with their mainstream co-workers in leisure-related situations and had close non-Korean friends had significantly higher incomes than those who rarely ventured outside their own group.

In the study, the researchers analyzed survey responses from 204 people ages 18 to 81. Eighty-six percent of the respondents were married or in a common-law relationship and 76 percent of them had lived in the United States for more than 10 years. Nearly half (48 percent) were high school graduates; 44 percent earned college degrees in Korea.

Survey respondents were prompted to provide information regarding their leisure associations not only among co-workers, but with mainstream American friends in general. Their level of ethnic enclosure with respect to leisure choices was evaluated on the basis of four criteria: the predominant language used when engaging in leisure activities such as reading and viewing and listening to television and radio programs; whether or not they had friends outside their ethnic community; how often they participated in leisure pursuits with non-Koreans; and how often they socialized with non-Korean co-workers in activities such as attending lunches, going to bars after work and attending parties and socials organized by their employers

Interestingly, Stodolska said, participants in this study  as well as a related, qualitative study of Korean, Mexican and Polish immigrants  indicated that they were very aware of the benefits of hanging out with mainstream friends and associates.

“They are aware of the role of leisure in their upward mobility and are making calculated choices to associate with people outside of their communities,” she said. “In the other study, a lawyer told us he knew he was passed over for promotion because he was not a member of the inner circle.”

Similarly, the comments of a Chinese-American woman surveyed in another study examining leisure trends in ethnically enclosed communities revealed that she regarded spending time in bars with mainstream friends as a means to an end, and nothing more.

“She reported she goes to bars for one reason,” Stodolska said, sharing the young woman's response: “Practice English. It is a task. A burden. Something I push myself to do. It's no fun.”

Despite many respondents' apparent knowledge that their chances for economic advancement may improve if they are able to establish social networks outside their communities, half of the sample in the study of Korean immigrants indicated they had no friends outside their ethnic group.

In many cases, members of certain immigrant communities, such as Latinos, “may not always be allowed inside mainstream networks because of racism,” Stodolska said.

In cases where significant levels of discrimination routinely occur, members of those immigrant groups may fare better when they remain within their ethnically enclosed communities, she said.

The study was supported by a grant from the U of I's Campus Research Board.

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