In any office, there are certain cultural dos and don’ts that help keep the figurative ship sailing smoothly. Unloading the dishwasher when it is full of clean dishes, engaging in small talk in the kitchen, volunteering to lead a presentation, signing up for corporate event or clubs — as corny as it may seem, all of these social obligations are necessary and can help you grow professionally and help maintain a pleasant environment at the office.
But what happens when an office “do” riddles you with anxiety? Should you figure out a way to push through? Or just avoid it all together? No, I’m not talking about meetings — those are little hard to opt out of. But something like office happy hour or an outing with coworkers can sometimes complicate relationships or put pressure on people to socialize in an environment where they don’t feel comfortable.
On one hand, the intrinsic value of socializing with coworkers at happy hour is obvious and holds just as much social significance as kitchen small talk. It also creates an opportunity for coworkers to bond in a casual setting and make connections. That being said, there is also a case to be made about those of us that just aren’t at our best in a happy hour setting in which case, it is OK to pass up the office happy hour to do something else with the evening? And how do you politely navigate the dynamics of pushy coworkers who don’t understand your reasons for opting out?
Walking this line can be tricky, but it is definitely doable, and at times, is a move that is both necessary for your professional development and your self-care.
…when your heart just isn’t in it.
It’s OK to bow out of the office happy hour simply because you’re not feeling it. Sometimes, it can be difficult for people who enjoy socializing to understand why someone might want to be alone after a long day at work. But if your heart isn’t in the event, the spot everyone has chosen is out of your way, or you just want to get home as soon as possible to go grocery shopping — all of this is OK. When your heart isn’t in it, people can tell, and it might hinder your ability to put your best, most social foot forward if you’re burning the candle on both ends and are preoccupied with thoughts of what you would rather be doing.
…when you have other plans.
Obviously, if family or an emergency prevents you from making it to an after work event with coworkers, no one is going to twist your arm or make you feel bad about not joining in. But if there’s something on your agenda that isn’t that time sensitive or important for your professional growth, turning down happy hour with coworkers can feel conflicting.
The truth is, no matter how small the activity may be, if it’s important to you or is something you’ve been looking forward to for weeks, you have to stick to that plan and honor yourself. There is always a time and place for letting loose and it’s entirely up to you how and when you choose to do that.
…when you want to make a genuine connection.
We all strive to stand out in some way, and when you’re brand new at an office or just getting to know your coworkers, going to happy hour seems like the obvious move for getting to know everyone. But sometimes getting to know coworkers in that setting can backfire — especially when some people go harder than others when it comes to drinking. Building relationships with coworkers on more neutral ground might be a good way to learn what makes them tick — and vice versa.
…when you’re setting boundaries.
It can feel particularly awkward to turn down an invite to happy hour or a long lunch when you’re new to a job and an office. But, there is a power and a strategy to the dissent because it allows you to establish boundaries and discern which coworkers will respect your decisions and make an effort to get to know you in a way that is more comfortable to you. This isn’t about keeping people at arm’s length and it isn’t about saying no for the sake of saying no, it’s about getting to know the people you work with on your terms. That will help create more genuine connections with your coworkers, and in the end give people a chance to know the real you within the bounds you’ve created.
…when you want to take care of yourself.
Going to the gym instead of happy hour is perhaps one of the hardest excuses with which to escape ridicule-free. If the gym, the yoga studio, or the crossfit box is your happy place, people tend to look at you like you have three heads. Couple that reaction with the celebratory mood of a Friday happy hour and that kind of differentiation in values can leave you feeling like your priorities are out of whack. But self-care and wellness are not one-size-fits-all phenomena. What might look like self-care to some is not self-care for all. So if going to the gym is your version of unwinding after a long day, don’t substitute that guaranteed satisfaction for a social situation that might have an adverse effect on your energy. It’s OK to speak up for yourself even if that means enduring a couple of eyes rolls.