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I'm a young graduate fresh out of university just under a year ago. I went to an international school in my youth and did not establish many friendships during university due to the girlfriend in freshman year. I thought that starting my professional life would offer me the chance to form more friendships with more new people.

I did find a group of people who I thought are quite 'tight' with; meaning we always have a daily group chat on Messenger, always have lunch together and always go to the same workplace social events together. But that's it - we never do anything more than that outside the office. I've tried several times to organize a get-together over the weekend or some drinks on a friday evening, but everyone is always so hesistant that it feels rather awkward to push them to come (which is what we'd do in our uni years).

I thought this was just something to do with techies not being very sociable (something I definitely noticed in my computer science course), but reading this workplace question - How to deal with a colleague who wants to be a personal friend and not just a work colleague? - made me think if just the entire notion is unacceptable?

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why was there a downvote? Could the person who downvoted please clarify his/her decision? –  Evil Washing Machine Jun 16 at 14:44
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Have you considered the locations of these off-hour get-togethers in relation to where everyone else lives? –  JeffO Jun 16 at 16:05

8 Answers 8

up vote 56 down vote accepted

Keep in mind the attitude of the poster on the question you mention. In that case, the person asking doesn't want to be friends with the other guy.

There's absolutely no problem in being good friends with coworkers - particularly if you are of a similar rank in the company. However, like any friendship, it must be mutual. I'm not saying that your reluctant coworkers don't want to be your friend - but that the transition from "in office friend" to "out of office friend" has a lot of factors in play.

Note - I'm making a distinction here between "in office friend" and "out of office friend" - because both can be good friendships, but what it seems to me is that you are looking to build a pool of friends who time together goes quite beyond time spend in the office (and during lunch).

Things to consider that can play a factor:

  • Group scheduling - most folks have other stuff they schedule besides work on their evenings/weekends. Often I see group endeavors fall apart just because no one has time. The times that I've seen it work are because everyone in the gang shares a love of some activity that is worth making time for after work - like a basketball team, a card game, etc.

  • Family life - different people with different family commitments will have different planning AND scheduling constraints. People with kids are generally less interested in impromptu get-togethers, for example, but may be up for a planned thing including the family. Where people who are single may like a Friday night drink after work.

  • Relative seniority - generally management may participate in team stuff if there is an open invite, but may be wary if it's a clique that isn't open to all. Also, if there is a big difference in your seniority levels, there may be an unspoken feeling of not wanting to show that a junior employee is a favorite.

  • Change of pace - not everyone wants to spend more time with the people they just spent 45 or so hours a week with. Not that the work friends are bad, just that variety is good. I, for example, love hanging out with artists. I work with engineers and like hanging out with them, too, but after 45-50 hours a week of engineers, I really want to get some artist-time in, so unless I have a coworker that loves dance, music and theater as much as I do, I won't be dragging anyone from work to social occasions.

  • Life style compatibility - non-drinkers won't be thrilled about going to bar, gay folks may want to find a place to hang out where they can be more "out", healthy lifestyle people not want to be sedentary... for almost everyone, there's personal choices that we compromise on in the office, but are less willing to compromise on in our spare time. And most offices, set up a culture where (hopefully) very little about race, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. matters or even comes into play, but that means that home life is where people are more eager to be those aspects of themselves.

In practice, I've seen work friends change to out of work friends when the friends are in a fairly similar place in life (usually when they are single) and when there's something besides work that brings people together and changes how they relate enough that it doesn't feel like "more time in the office".

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Not at all. In fact most companies go to great lengths to promote interactions between coworkers both in and out of the office. Team building has given rise to a number of companies that specialize in promoting bonding between coworkers. However, just because you want to be friends does not mean that your colleague will also want a relationship outside of work. But if you both do then your company is not likely to have a problem with it either. If they do then it will be clearly stated in their policy.

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It's not unusual to form friendships with coworkers, but from my experience it takes years of working together with them and, occasionally, working with them in some kind of high pressure situation. This type of teamwork can trigger a bond that lasts long after you leave the company. There's only one person who I have worked with before that I would consider a close friend and that was after 6 years and many late nights spent working on projects with him.

It's a very good idea to be social and outgoing when it comes to colleagues, but don't expect to be able to create a bond with them on your own terms and don't be put off if they're reluctant. Some people like keeping work and social lives separate. Any relationship you form will be something that develops naturally little by little. The advantage is that these friendships will last a lot longer and mean a lot more than ones you formed in pubs or societies at Uni.

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A Russian proverb states that "friendship is friendship but business is business" It's OK to be friends with your colleagues, as long as your friendship does not prevent you from criticizing their job performance. Keep in mind that you may be in a position where you will have to fire one of your best friends someday, or one of your best friends may have to fire you. As long neither of you takes it personally, it's OK to be friends on the job.

I want my friends at work to be unadorned in their criticism of me and I believe that I owe them the same courtesy and outspoken fairness. In my world, I look out for my friends by telling them the truth as to how actually doing and how others see them. I expect my friends to do the same for me.

We don't have to like each other at all times and we don't have to agree even most of the time but we have to trust each other at all times.

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I agree with other answers that it is not unacceptable per se. No worries there. That said, as with any friendship, friendship with colleagues cannot be forced and you are right to consider not pushing them any more. I suppose this was your main question, but I take the liberty to add some comments.

The structured time you spend together at work likely enforces your colleagues' view of it as a work thing, and come weekend, they are off to their families and, well, friends. Therefore your "group friendship" may even sabotage real friendship.

Consider also this: You yourself cannot possibly want to be close friends to all those people! In the course of time, you will like one or two of your colleagues better, and they too, as the natural result of common ground, chemistry if you like.

To return to the "group friendship" concept, it doesn't work, because we like to feel unique and special. I think you will have to give it time and hope for some luck.

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There is nothing wrong with this. I have a good number (>5) of good, long-time friends who I started out working with or even supervised, and who I still keep as friends today.

Real friendships last longer than any job, and they are rarer, and therefore are arguably more valuable. Don't be afraid to make a friend just because you met them at work.

Obviously you have to beware of favoritism or the appearance of favoritism while still on the same job, and need to be able to tell the difference between acquaintance and friend - 9/10 of the work people you "hang out with" will disappear like mist once you leave the job. (Just like many of your "friends" may disappear when you move cities or get married.)

In this case, they may be under the misapprehension that it's bad, or they may just not be that into you, or they may have other things going on in the off work hours (girlfriends etc.) that they prefer, or they may just be overly passive and need someone like you to organize a good activity for 'em after work. That's something only discussion and observation with those individuals can discern.

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You just have to follow the lead of others. It could be:

  1. They don't want to be friends with you. Maybe you are the best choice at work but in their down time they have other friends that they prefer. In this case, just stick to socializing how you were in work. Or maybe they feel like they can't open up to you like a friend because they feel obligated to maintain a professional image.
  2. They want to avoid the complications of mixing coworkers and friends. If you prevent a friendship from growing out of coworkers, the penalty isn't too bad. If you allow a friendship to start and then decide you want to end it, whether it's due to a serious disagreement or because you just find the person boring, then it can make work (which you are forced to attend) awkward. Now one person feels rejected and the other person knows that and they are both forced to interact every day; it can be uncomfortable.
  3. They aren't opposed to being friends but are anxious/nervous about the outings you recommend. In this case, try to make what you invite them to be a more casual kind of event. Maybe throw a party and say that they can bring a friend or partner. That way, they know they'll have somebody to fall back on. Since they haven't socialized outside of work with you, they may be nervous about how they'd get along with you when you put business aside.
  4. They aren't opposed to being friends and it's all just a coincidence that they've been saying no. Maybe they'll say no later or maybe they'll invite you to something.

Personally, in terms of friends I'd fall into category #3, in terms of office romance I'd fall into category #2. I know people who have all sorts of opinions on this though so it really depends on the person.

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(I don't yet have the rep to comment, or I'd comment on @VietnhiPhuvan's answer)

Forming friendships with coworkers can lead to sticky situations, particularly if you report to them now (or in the future). They won't want to be seen as favoring their clique or otherwise being unfair to those outside their clique. They might even feel obliged to be tougher on their friends just to prove that they aren't playing favorites. Giving bad reviews or firing a friend is far tougher on both parties than it is on professional colleagues.

A romantic relationship just makes it tougher, should one of you be in line to be the manager of the other. If that doesn't break the relationship itself, it may mean the forced transfer of one or the other of you (by your employer) so that there can be no accusations of nepotism or favoritism. Besides, if the two of you break up as anything but friends, you'll have to see each other every day. Speaking from personal experience, that's not fun.

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