Editor’s Note: This article is one of the top 10 most uncomfortable work situations of 2015. See the full list here.
Of all of the office rituals, blowing off steam with a few beers after hours is likely the most beloved for many people. But not parents of young children–when they are already sacrificing quality time by working long hours, missing bedtime is a big deal.
Psychologist Art Markman helps a reader figure out a tricky work/life balance question: Do you have to go to happy hour with your coworkers?
I hope you can help me figure out how to navigate this social situation in my office. I’m on the soft-spoken/introverted side, but everyone in my office is very social–they are of the work-hard/play-hard mentality. Very few of them have children, and they all like to go out for drinks after work at least twice a week.
They often invite me (I think just out of politeness) but I always decline because I don’t feel comfortable, I’m not interested, and I have two young kids at home that I’d rather see for an hour before they go to bed than stand around awkwardly at a loud bar.
Is this a bad move for my career? Any suggestions on how I can be social in a way that isn’t uncomfortable and not have to change my personality completely?
It is nice that you work at a place where the people like each other enough to want to spend time together at the end of the day. There are plenty of workplaces where people don’t want to be around each other any longer than necessary.
That said, you raise an important issue. Part of the social glue that binds your work community together happens at these after-hours events. The shared experience creates inside jokes and group memories.
Your question, though, brings two aspects of workplace happiness into conflict. On the one hand, research suggest that people who feel like they have good friends at work are happier than those who don’t. On the other hand, research also suggests that your long-term happiness at work requires that you feel like you can express your authentic self at work. If you don’t like to go out for drinks with a crowd, then forcing yourself to go is not an authentic expression of who you are.
That means that you need to find a way to engage yourself with the community while still fulfilling your obligations to your family and staying true to yourself. How you choose to do that will depend a lot on the people you work with and the things they like and value, but here are a few suggestions.
You could try to organize some small social events during the workday. For example, most people like to be acknowledged on their birthday. Getting a group together to decorate people’s workspace for their birthday and singing a goofy rendition of “Happy Birthday” can leave everyone with warm feelings.
Suggest an alternative event every once in a while. Happy hour is great, but there are lots of other ways to spend some fun hours with colleagues that don’t involve pints and half-price chicken wings. Maybe the group could get together to go bowling, sing karaoke, or even do some volunteer work at a local charity. Events like that could also incorporate partners, so you would not have to leave your spouse behind. You might even suggest a few family-friendly events so that people at work who do have kids can bring them along.
Another possibility is to organize some smaller groups to eat lunch together or go for a cup of coffee. If you don’t like large crowds, then finding some social time that fits your schedule and matches the way you socialize might be your best bet.
The main principle here is that the social time with your colleagues is an important way to feel included in the community. You don’t have to become a party animal to make that happen, but you might have to put in some effort to create these social opportunities. Developing your relationships with your colleagues will help you feel closer to the group and will improve your overall satisfaction with your job.
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