Socializing with colleagues is important business, as long as it’s done with your own interest uppermost.
Now, many people feel their own interest is best served by avoiding socializing with co-workers. After all, you already put in long hours at the office, too often leaving little quality time for yourself and loved ones. When your co-workers invite you out for an after-hours drink or ask you to join the department’s softball team, your first thought may be: “I spend all day with these people. Why do I need to socialize with them, too?”
Over years of talking with NiaOnline members via the Internet and at our leadership conferences, we’ve informally observed that many African American professionals skimp on socializing with colleagues. Many feel they already give too much time to their jobs and see socializing with office mates as an intrusion into their personal lives. Others consider work-related social situations where they’re in the ethnic minority too “dry” or culturally awkward to be fun. Others simply don’t want to let their guard down around the people with whom they work.
On the other hand, there are those whose jobs are so demanding of their time and so socially isolating that they may feel they have no alternative to befriending and even romancing co-workers. When these folks let their hair down at office parties or share details of their personal lives with office mates, the consequences sometimes are disastrous. How many times have you heard about someone who had an affair with the boss, only to be forced out of the job after the liaison soured?
It’s our opinion that the best approach to workplace socializing puts your career first, and protects your chances for advancement. When proper boundaries are observed, socializing with colleagues can help in building your professional support network.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for socializing with co-workers:
Recognize the importance of socializing with colleagues.
Organized group activities, office parties, and after-work trips to the local watering hole all present opportunities to develop connections that can help advance your career, as well as your effectiveness in your current position. “You don’t have to make spending time with your co-workers a weekly activity. You do need to think ahead and be prepared to socialize with your co-workers when it makes sense for your career,” advised etiquette expert Harriette Cole in her column for NiaOnline titled “Are You Segregating Yourself Out of a Career?”
Don’t underestimate the importance of fostering workplace relationships
This topic was addressed at our 2005 leadership conference in Chicago. One of the panelists, marketing executive Anne Sempowski-Ward, said: “The higher you go, the more it becomes about how well-connected you are. Who’s on your team?”
Who’s advocating for you? That advocacy is so important…I can’t tell you the number of times my advocates have come to my rescue. Where I’ve just been at the lowest of low, people have swooped in because I had built relationships with them over time, so that they understood where I was coming from and what I was struggling with. “Taking a mentor to lunch, bringing a mentee along with you to a networking event, chatting up potential allies at the company holiday party—these are social interactions that can help you to develop such relationships.
Be very careful about pursuing romance in the office.
Yes, romances happen in the workplace–in fact, 58 percent of employees say they have been involved in an office romance, the 2006 Vault survey reports. However, when advances are unwelcome in any way, they become sexual harassment – so be very careful about making a move. Also keep in mind that even when relations are completely consensual, an affair may violate office policies or result in career-damaging awkwardness or hard feelings if you break up.
Don’t let it all hang out.
Sheryl once was told, “What you see here, stays here,” before her first office party at a major corporation. She soon came to learn that the party’s events rarely “stayed there;” to the contrary, reports of occasional wild behavior would hit the gossip mill by morning. That consequence was also addressed during our leadership conference. “You’re always on the view, whether you’re out drinking after work with your co-workers or sitting in the boss’s office and having a heart-to-heart,” warned panelist Deborah Telman, an aerospace industry executive. “People are always watching and listening to everything you say and do. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned by watching others experience some really negative ramifications of getting too loose at work and feeling too comfortable.”
Workplace socializing has a positive and important role in career success. If it results in lasting friendships, too, that’s all the better. Be smart about it, and remember to have fun.
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