Ask An Adult: Do We Really Have To Be Friends With Our Colleagues?
The Debrief: From not wanting to spend money on after work drinks to wanting to see your IRL old friends… if you clicked attending on every calendar invite that came your way, you'd end up constantly pissed, very unhealthy and broke as hell.
At work, I'm surrounded by smart, creative, hilarious women whom I truly admire. We chomp on about the TV shows we guiltily watch, our best drag queen looks of all time and take quizzes to find out which Hogwarts house we belong in. But that doesn't mean I want to be friends with these people. To me, colleagues are just... colleagues. I read all these so-called 'relatable' listicles about having a 'work wife', but at the end of a day in the office, I'm not heading to the pub with the people I already spend 40 hours a week with. I'm off home to get some much-needed peace, or out to see the true pals I rarely see thanks to our demanding schedules.
When work events (read: drinks... why does it always have to be bloody drinks?) roll around, I spend the entire week beforehand pranging out. I'm happy to stay for one, but how will I politely make my excuses and leave, without coming across as a total d-bag? I already feel utterly socialled out from just being around so many humans five days a week (and the work group chat, of course), one more night may actually tip me over the edge.
My reluctance to form legitimate friendships or deeper bonds with the people I work with by no means I'm not committed to my career. Working hard, learning new skills every day, and smashing my job is my utmost priority. But it seems getting in early every day, working your tits off for eight hours, and even spending the evenings and weekends thinking of ideas and ways to improve, is still not enough. Because unfortunately, it isn't as simple as 'work is work'. In reality, it seems that if you're always the one missing from team outings, gossip and dare I say... banter (shudder) you're likely to be penalised in one way or another.
Recent research by CV Library found more than 90% of employees think you should have friends at work. At the same time, almost 13% of those people admitted being close to colleagues has actually harmed their career.
It's a tricky one. Obviously getting on with your colleagues is important not only for your own wellbeing (you spend so many waking hours with these guys, you need to know how to hold a conversation with them), but for your productivity too. You're much more likely to produce kick ass collaborative work with them if you're on the same page. But also, should we have to dedicate any more of our precious time to work socials?
Pam Lindsay-Dunn, regional managing director at mega recruiter Hays, says, 'As most of us spend more time with our colleagues during the working week than we do with our own families or friends, it is important that we have established relationships with workmates which allow us to be happy and productive.' According to the company's latest research, 44% of employers think it's important we get on with our colleagues outside of work. Pam says it shouldn’t be considered vital that you do socialise with colleagues outside of work, but that there are arguably more benefits if you do.
'While it won’t always have a direct impact on your career [if you don't], if you feel comfortable amongst your colleagues and are working in a supportive environment, your performance and productivity is likely to be greater too. Employees who feel comfortable in each other’s company, are also more likely to express themselves, share ideas, and collaborate without a fear of being put down.'
It's not always as simple as going out for a few beers though. And let's admit it, beers are always involved. Team outings are never a relaxing mooch around an exhibition or country walk, are they? Plus, booze-fuelled hang outs have become to go to way of congratulating you on your performance. When the hell did this happen? Prosecco has got to be the most over-used incentive in workplaces across the UK (probably). Wouldn't most of us just prefer a cash bonus? I know I would.
This is a problem in itself. There may be many reasons why employees aren't totally comfortable with post-work hang outs. May*, 29, works in retail and has found her mental health and choice not to drink alcohol has had an impact on her work life. 'Having made the decision from an early age not to drink, there have been multiple instances in my working life when this has set me apart from those I worked with. My choice to not drink meant my colleagues often labelled me as 'boring'. I have always suffered from social anxiety and while that often fed into my decisions to not attend things outside of work with colleagues, a key factor was often that I didn’t enjoy spending hours in the pub.'
'Management often used having a night out or buying a round as a way to boost morale or get us to achieve targets. I sort of (depressingly) accepted it as the norm and atypical of the way society centralises drinking. While it didn’t impact on how I did my job, it was frustrating as there wasn’t an equivalent 'prize' for me.'
May admits that in the past, she felt great pressure to attend these socials, out of fear she'd be thought of as rude or anti-social. 'Now, I've learnt to not put myself in stressful or uncomfortable situations just to maintain an air of being a "team player." I know I’m capable of doing my job and I don’t see why not socialising with colleagues should affect how people view me. There’s a quote from Girls that I am a firm believer in: "it’s really liberating saying no to shit you hate.”'
So how on earth are we meant to find that incredibly delicate work/life balance, without peeing off everyone with work with, or coming across as rude for turning down yet another 'drinkiiiiies' invite? Senior HR manager at Racepoint Global, Sandy Middleton, says,'Socialising shouldn’t be seen as a contractual requirement at work, and it definitely shouldn’t be the only way to get ahead, but fostering strong connections with your colleagues is important for all sorts of reasons, including feeling engaged at work.' Sandy suggests being practical about striking that balance.
'I’d recommend investing more time in socialising when you first join a company. After you’ve laid the groundwork and gotten to know people, it’s then about carefully selecting the events that you attend – get involved regularly enough so that you feel a part of life at work, but decline some so that you’re not giving up a significant amount of your own free time (and money).'
If you clicked attending on every calendar invite that came your way, you'd end up constantly pissed, very unhealthy and broke as hell. Learning to say no and strike that balance is hard, but has to be done for your own sanity.
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