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Our office has a ping-ping table, and I am occasionally invited to play during work hours. Meanwhile my co-workers will often take a few minutes out of the day to chat about their homes, families, hobbies, or to gossip about a recent TV show. Altogether, I figure this is at least a half hour of the day spent on non-work things.

The thing is, although I get on fine with my colleagues, I'm not close with any of them - they are not people I choose to hang out with in my own time. I don't really care about their latest golf score, and I don't watch "reality" television. I'm not here to have fun, I'm here because I need money and I am being paid to be here.

If the company can afford for me to spend an hour during work time playing ping-pong, then I would much rather work for that hour and take off an hour early - that way I have more time for the things I actually enjoy doing.

In other words, I don't care about "company culture", I just want to do my job, and get out of here.

How do I make it clear to my colleagues that I'm here to work, not to socialize?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jul 25 '18 at 15:53
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    Does it not work to just say "no thanks" when asked to do something or not engage in the conversation? Why do you want to have some broader conversation with them about your motivations in life and work? – Dukeling Jul 25 '18 at 15:56
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    I don't really understand the close votes here - the OP has a very clear question? – enderland Jul 25 '18 at 18:15
  • @ElysianFields I considered voting to close because to me it's not really clear what the goal is here, and it might be an XY problem - if the goal really is just to explain that OP is in the office to have work, that might be too specific of a goal that doesn't really leave much for us to help with, but I have to wonder whether OP is instead looking for a way to politely decline invitations or shut down conversation, get people to stop bugging them, despite having shut it down every time so far, or whether they're looking for more confidence to shut it down. – Dukeling Jul 25 '18 at 19:51

10 Answers 10

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You can just tell your coworkers what you said here.

Of course, most people don't like feeling like as people they don't matter, so there's significant risk associated with this that cannot really be removed, because no matter how you phrase it, people don't like being rejected and ignored socially.

In other words, I don't care about "company culture"

I think you are underestimating a few things.

First, understand that if you don't care about company culture and actively avoid participating in relationship building, you are accepting that you will very likely:

  • Be seen as less of a team player than others
  • Be less likely to receive promotions (particularly if work conversations do happen in some percentage of the time)
  • Develop a negative reputation for being antisocial
    • Especially if you leave early rather than socialize with your coworkers
  • Have weaker relationships with coworkers

This is because, well, you've decided your coworkers don't matter to you and you don't participate in a fairly meaningful part of the company culture to many of your fellow employees.

Second, if this feels unfair... well, company culture is a rather important part of job "fit" - it sounds like you are at a company where you don't have a good fit. While this doesn't mean you should quit your job it is something to consider in the future. Make sure you focus on understanding this sort of thing in interviews. Luckily, most companies are very eager to be excited about a culture that involves ping-pong, etc, so you should have minimal problems identifying companies that are a lot more "work only" culture.

A lot of people have fairly meaningful relationships in the workplace. It sounds like you are not one of them. I would encourage you to take care when interviewing to understand the company culture so you don't end up in situations like this.

And third, you don't have to attend every social event to have a fairly meaningful mitigation of a lot of the risks involved and still receive benefits. I strongly recommend making an effort to participate at least once a week. This will mitigate much of the risk involved with straight up rejecting all social activity at work.

Politely declining socializing/games on Monday-Thursday feels a lot better to most people if they know you always are there on Friday, for example.

If you have to consider 30 minutes a week of socializing part of your job description to do this without being bitter, I would try to see it this way.

Last, it's important to recognize that relationship building is a meaningful work activity. It might not be to you (though I'm skeptical it has zero effect). But it definitely is to the overwhelming majority of people in the world.

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    Most people are social animals, pack or herd depending on whether you're in a good mood or not. This sharing of information about activities, family, television shows etc. are the way the pack bonds. You do want to be part of the pack, and you REALLY want to be part of the herd. If you're not part of the herd, you're the one that gets pushed to the outside when the predators show up. – Petro Jul 25 '18 at 15:30
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    "If you have to consider 30 minutes a week of socializing part of your job description to do this without being bitter, I would try to see it this way." I think this is the best advice that can be given. With the company culture being described, they are considering non-work interactions part of your job description. – krillgar Jul 25 '18 at 16:24
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    +1 for " it's important to recognize that relationship building is a meaningful work activity." Building relationships with your coworkers isn't just about having fun, it will make you better at your job. If being good at your job or growing your career are at all important to you, it is absolutely vital. – Seth R Jul 25 '18 at 17:33
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    This is a great advice. I was actually blunt and I rejected such interaction and not only it didn’t help at all, it actually made it harder for me to get my job done. I needed the very colleagues I was dismissing. Don’t dismiss them. Find a balance – Adelin Jul 25 '18 at 18:04
  • Regardless of the company culture, it's a good idea to socialize with coworkers. You're eventually going to need something from someone, and people are much more likely to do things for you if they know and like you. I work for a large, well-known tech company, and we have huge world-wide get-togethers four times a year, whose primary (unstated) purpose is to cross-office socialization. Since we started doing this, productivity on large projects has skyrocketed. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jul 25 '18 at 19:03
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There is nothing to make clear. Just politely decline invitations for ping-pongs or other activities and soon enough it will stop. If it is normally functioning office like any other, no one will hold it against you.

Trying to make any statement like "I am here to work, not to socialize" will only make you appear arrogant and rude.

You need to remember everyone is in office to work and make money just as you are. They engage in other social activities because they think that will help them work better. If that does not work for you then don't participate in their activities but you do not have to sound judgemental.

You can once in a while join their conversations and talk about other things you actually enjoy doing and that will help them understand why you are unable to join them in office. (I have a similar situation; I spend lot of time running and swimming in my own time and hence never participate in office games. They all know that by now and everyone is cool with it!)

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    It’s possible “because they think it will make them work better” but after more than forty years at several companies, I think the reason is more likely “because they know they can get away with it.” – WGroleau Jul 25 '18 at 16:26
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    @WGroleau. Probably a bit of both. They're probably doing it "because they can get away with it" but it is probably letting them work better, which is probably why the company lets them get away with it. – TripeHound Jul 25 '18 at 16:55
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    @WGroleau The business bought the ping pong table... I don't think anybody is getting away with anything. – Clint Jul 25 '18 at 19:43
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Say "No, I prefer to work". If you are asking how to do this without getting funny looks, there is no way.

Also, if this is actual company culture (as opposed to your colleagues goofing of) prepare to be terminated when an excuse presents itself, for being a bad fit for the company.

E.g. my employer sponsors a lot of social activity; I am free not to participate, but I am not free to go home instead, because my employer does not want me to go home, but to socialize. The idea (correct or not) is that this will make us work more efficiently as a team.

If yours is a case of "company culture" then presumably your employers have an idea want they want their company values to be, and if you are basically saying "I reject your puny values and substitute my own" this might not get down too well.

You might want to try a minimum of participation, at least to try if against all odds you enjoy yourself.

Having said all the above, I still understand how you feel about this.

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I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say you should do it. At least sometimes.

Your coworkers are people, not automatons you're transacting workplace business with. You may be able to get away with such impersonal-ness in e.g. a minor retail transaction but your coworkers will reasonably expect that you socialize more than the bare minimum required to uphold the social contract/standards of professional courtesy. Doesn't mean you have to be "BFFs", does mean you'll have to make some small talk about $LOCAL_PROFESSIONAL_SPORTSBALL_TEAM.

Do you ever need anything from any of these people? Might one of them wind up your boss one day? Is one of them your boss right now? Do you have peer reviews? Nobody ever lost anything by greasing the popularity wheel.

You may not enjoy it (there are probably other parts of your job you don't enjoy much either) but it's worth doing. You also probably aren't getting away from it unless you become a contractor: I've never worked in a professional setting (midwest US, YMMV) where I did not have to participate in team building activities.

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    +1 For "Do you ever need anything from any of these people?" and it doesn't stop if you're a contractor. Many times someone on my team has said we need a supervisor to approve something but our supervisor is not here, what do we do? And there are a couple of us who know people all over the building and have no trouble rustling up a supervisor who is willing to approve whatever we need...because they know us. If you cold called them and said approve my request, they would have a lot more questions! – user3067860 Jul 25 '18 at 14:33
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Politely declining the ping-pong games is understandable. You might want to consider occasionally joining in.

Not talking with your co-workers is going to cost you badly. Just choose what you want to talk about. What interests outside of work do you have? Try bringing those interests into the conversation. Start a few conversations yourself. You may find that some of them have the same interests.

I can really understand just wanting to work, but I've learned the hard way that it has consequences. I burned out twice. My work quality during the burnouts was horrid. When I had to go back and maintain the code I'd written, I was embarrassed to have my name on it. I completely missed the fact that there were extramarital affairs going on, and was blindsided when they blew up in a way that impacted my work. Everyone else seem to be aware and were surprised that I wasn't.

Then there's the professional side. If you never talk with your co-workers, you'll never know who to approach when you're stuck on a problem. Who do you "fit" with best when a task takes more than one person to complete? There are people who are quite competent that I simply cannot stand, and working closely with them is actively painful. There are others who I just fit with so well that the task seems to complete itself in less than half the time.

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If the company can afford for me to spend an hour during work time playing ping-pong, then I would much rather work for that hour and take off an hour early - that way I have more time for the things I actually enjoy doing.

I think everyone feels the same way about these things, including your co-workers. It may be that they are bored or trying to relax and they happen to do it by talking about golf scores, reality shows, or playing ping pong.

What I'm trying to say is we're all in the same boat. I'm sure at the time to leave, everyone punches out immediately, not caring about the earlier conversation. While you might feel like you're "forced" to endure their small talk, or that you feel like you're wasting company time, it may be that everyone is feeling the same way.

A good example is at this company's get together I had years ago. It was a "fun day" of pool games, drinks, and free food. Everyone was having a blast talking, and having a great time. They said folks could leave at 3pm. We had to do this tournament where the best two pool champs would compete. Guess what happened right at 3pm? Everyone just dropped what they're doing, and left. Nobody stuck around to play or watch the pool championship. Why? Because nobody wanted to be there but as painful as it was, they did because they had to.

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Here's a suggestion: Even if you don't like ping-pong, what if you take an hour out of your day, while they're playing ping-pong, to just go and hang out with them? You don't have to play, you don't even have to be interested in ping-pong. Just go and hang out and chat about nothing for a little while.

You mentioned you're not interested in any of the same things they are interested in. But do they know what you're interested in? Perhaps if you share with them what you're interested in, then maybe you'll find some common ground to chat about. I'm the same with my coworkers; they all love foosball, but to be honest I'm really bad at it and don't have fun playing it. So I don't. But, for example, when I'm on lunch, I chat with my coworkers about whatever silly thing they happen to be chatting about that day, even if I have no interest in it.

How about trying to be interested in things they're interested in? You don't watch any reality TV shows or whatever, but what if you started watching one that your coworkers are interested in? I mean, heck, even if you hate it, then you can go to the office and complain about how much everything sucks, but this time with an informed opinion :p

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Try taking it case by case. In other words, each time you're invited to engage socially, just routinely say "no thank you," smiling a subtle smile while responding this way (just to be on the safe side in avoiding personality conflicts based around the unavoidable workplace culture in your office).

Eventually, your colleagues will get the hint that you'd rather just stick to your work and not socialize on the job.

Regardless of how you phrase it, stating anything like "I'd rather work," could come across as disrespectful and give you a negative reputation among your colleagues and employer, which you could be able to quite easily avoid by just leaving that part out of your responses to social invitations.

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You don't say just what your job entails, but if you're doing any sort of creative/intellectual work, and/or have a job that keeps you sitting, you might want to think about just why "...the company can afford for me to spend an hour during work time playing ping-pong...". Most of us do better work if we take occasional breaks, and get some physical activity. It also helps to avoid the health problems that come from prolonged sitting.

I very much doubt that your company is a charity. If they have a ping-pong table (or FTM a full-scale gym, as at my last salaried job), it's because they think it's going to improve overall productivity.

WRT golf scores, reality television, and so on, you can just politely give the impression that you have absolutely no idea what they're talking about. They'll soon get bored with trying to explain things. (This works for me and talk about professional sports.) Then shift the conversation to something perhaps more work-related, so it becomes part socializing, part intellectual cross-fertilization.

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"How do I make it clear to my colleagues that I'm here to work, not to socialize?"

You can say that you're too busy with your work both here at the office and at home. This then gets the message across that that you can't afford to participate in leisure activities.

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