Socializing with colleagues


Journalist Sara Madou sometimes finds socializing with colleagues during and after work difficult. Is there a way to set boundaries in our jobs without dampening the office atmosphere or damaging our career prospects?

We all want to work somewhere with a nice atmosphere, but still guard our personal time; we want to be appreciated and liked by our colleagues, and yet be able and not afraid to seek out the peace and quiet we need. But how?

Nagging Feeling

You’ve been around your colleagues all week, so going to a restaurant or hanging out with your friends at home on a Friday night probably sounds nicer than nursing a lukewarm beer at the office. Perhaps you ascribe to the school of thought that dictates you go to work to get work done and not to make friends. Nonetheless, contact with colleagues and work-life balance is becoming more important when viewed as a factor in job satisfaction.

Lieke Bezemer, psychologist, ‘happyologist’ and work coach at Happy Working Life in the Netherlands says many of her clients struggle with this issue. “Some people need more quiet and personal space than others,” she says. “This has nothing to do with being selfish. They can’t help it and it really doesn’t make them less of a good person. I always tell people to figure out what gives them energy and what costs them energy. It also helps them explain to colleagues why they’re not doing or participating in something, making it more likely their colleagues will understand and accept their reason.”

Analyzing your needs in this regard often begins by a nagging feeling, the idea that something’s not right. If you are someone who attends all the work parties full of enthusiasm and spends every lunch break with colleagues, more power to you. “It’s helpful to take time regularly to reflect,” Bezemer says. “What are the pros and cons? Which things are a source of satisfaction or frustration? By keeping track of this for a few weeks, you can quickly spot the energy gobblers. This might also include things like an overdose of texts from your colleagues or constantly hearing people talking all around you.”

Owning Your Own Free Time

My own solutions are actually pretty simple: bringing headphones to work for when all the talking gets to be too much, only attending work lunches when I really feel the need to, going to social events only when it’s a really special occasion (birthdays, someone leaving the company and so on). In other words, doing what feels right for me and not harboring the illusion that I can change the corporate culture. This isn’t even necessary; after all, I’m the one who has a problem with the subtle obligation, so it’s up to me to do something about it.

No one is forcing me to be in WhatsApp groups with colleagues, in principle. Nor are they pressuring me to stay somewhere longer than what I’m being paid for just to listen to Peter from accounting’s stories about his home renovation. But if I don’t do it, I risk creating an unmistakable distance between myself and everyone else. The consequence is missing out on essential (or, at the very least, juicy) inside information about the company or my boss, for example.

  • You can read more about socializing at work in Issue 34.

Text Sara Madou  Photography Daria Shevtsova/