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I strongly believe in separating my business life and my personal life. For example I would not become friends or socialise with a co-worker until after I left the job (not to mention fraternising with co-workers).

Is it ok to be strict that way? I have noticed many people do socialise with co-workers, but I feel it just to be trouble waiting to happen, besides it being a bit weird.

Edit: Yes I would engage in "water cooler encounters" and mostly don't suck at it. ;-) But do kindly reject things such as offers to see one's favourite sports match or watch a movie outside work, or a "pizza n beer" party at someone's house. And most of the time I wouldn't join others for lunch (not that I am unique in that).

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    Related question from the two mixing poorly. And another. – enderland May 16 '13 at 19:47
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    Can you perhaps add more detail about how you expect to approach this "strictness"? For example, would you explain your reasoning, or just turn down all requests to socialize? Would you still engage in friendly ("water cooler") encounters in the office, or avoid all non-work-related conversations? – Nicole May 16 '13 at 20:09
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    What do you plan to do if someone you already socialize with becomes a coworker? – Monica Cellio May 16 '13 at 20:54
  • It is not unlikely that in such a situation the friendship could deteriorate or disappear because of the more formal interaction you have at work. But I would not actively avoid the social interaction/friendship. However I have experienced being on the receiving end of someone actively messing up our social "relationship" because we became co-workers. So I know it could hurt and would not do that to someone else. – aseq May 16 '13 at 22:57
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I would suspect more co-workers would find it wierd to refuse to socialize than to socialize. However, you can do so under a couple of conditions.

First be friendly at the office. No one wants to work with someone who clearly behaves as if he or she looks down on them and being friendly at work will mitigate not socializing outside of work.

Attend office-wide social events such as team lunches, holiday parties, summer picnics etc. You don't have to stay long, but show up. Refusing to do these things will insult your co-workers and make them distrust and often make fun of you.

If someone in your workgroup or that you work closely with dies, attend the funeral espcially if they close the office for it. If a close relative of theirs dies attend the funeral if you can or send a condolence card. Never skip giving condolences to a co-worker when a close relative dies and you know about it. It is not only rude, it is hurtful.

Understand that the socialization outside of work helps people find future jobs. You are limiting yourself when you refuse to socialize at all. If you don't mind that is fine, but you should know the consequences. Also you might miss out on some very good friendships. After all your professional peers often have similar personality types and interests.

  • I agree for the most part and I certainly don't look down on anyone. Though if a team holiday party turns into a 3 day event including a weekend and national holiday I will politely decline. :-) With regards to close relatives of co-workers dying. I hardly ever heard of that and it's my experience people prefer to keep that to themselves or at the most tell it only to those they're close with (and HR if they need leave). Although my field (IT) may just be an oddball field with regards to such interpersonal communication. – aseq May 16 '13 at 20:49
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    @aseq: If the 3-day party is a work event, I'd suggest at least attend part of it, just to make an appearance (but you don't have to stay all 3 days, maybe just one meal and long enough to chat with a couple people, to be sociable). If you become "the guy who never comes to hang out with us", that could work against you. If your workplace regularly has 3-day parties and you don't want to attend, maybe it's not the right workplace for you (and are they hiring? ;) ). – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner May 16 '13 at 21:04
  • Yes makes sense, if said party does not require a 5 hour drive. :-) – aseq May 16 '13 at 22:59
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    @aseq: from your comments, it appears you already knew your answer before posting the question and you seem completely convinced you should keep your work and personal life completely separate.. So why did you ask it at all? – Thomas Bonini May 17 '13 at 16:20
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    @aseq: Actually, I think that a 5-hour drive is an OK reason to not go (especially if they have not bothered to charter a bus or organize a car pool). Not everyone is willing/able to spend that much time to get to a staff event. You could also propose alternative locations for the next event that are closer and easier to get to. That would give the impression that you really do want to go, and probably would if the party were not so inconveniently located. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner May 21 '13 at 20:19
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Executive Summary

Very few contracts will require you to socialize with colleagues as a part of your work duty. Therefore, you are most likely within your rights to eliminate any contact with coworkers outside of work without giving your employer the right to fire you.

At the same time, this is about as good of an idea as clipping your toenails with a jackhammer. While it will likely get the job done, the solution is worse than the problem you're trying to solve.

Work-life Balance

The goal of work-life balance is to minimize the negative impact of work on your non-work life (and at the same time preventing your personal life from impacting your work). Creating an iron curtain between home life and work life will have the opposite effect, as any overlap will have to be put on only one side, forcing you to change existing relationships based on a rule designed to not have work affect your relationships.

Case Study 1: The Unemployed Friend

Your buddy John just bought a house in the area before his company went under (the owners decided to invest in magic beans that led to a golden goose, but it didn't pan out). Due to the housing market, he isn't able to easily sell without taking a large personal loss. He's looked far and wide for any job in the area but it's been a year and he's still unemployed.

Your company has a new opening that fits John's skills perfectly. What do you do?

a) Don't tell him -- after all, he's a good friend, and that couldn't work if he got the job b) Get him the job -- he wasn't a good friend, so no biggie if you can't socialize anymore

Case Study 2: The Local

Every day you go to the same local bar to unwind. Everyone there knows you, and it is your home away from home. It is the sun to your social solar system.

One day your coworker Joan comes in and gets a drink. You are polite (but not friendly!), and think you dodged a bullet.

The next day, Joan is in there again. And the day after. And the weekend. A month later and you realize that the bar just isn't big enough for the two of you not to socialize.

Do you:

a) Forsake your local bar, after all, your real friends will follow you to the clearly inferior pub down the road b) Rationally explain to your coworker that, despite you really thinking they are swell from the hours of 9-to-5, that they are not welcome in the bar (but see you on Monday!)

Case Study 3: The Dinner Party

Your spouse has slightly different social circles than you. While you are down at the local bar, your spouse is doing charity work or single-handedly curing cancer.

One day your spouse tells you that another couple from the soup kitchen will be having dinner with you tonight. When you open the door to greet them, you realize it is Don and Jan from Accounting!

Do you:

a) Refuse to ever let your spouse have house guests without prior authorization b) Maintain your professional relationship with Don and Jan by being anti-social

As time passes, your number of existing colleagues and your social circle will likely grow, and make these sorts of overlaps more common. Having a rule you refuse to compromise will make situations like the one above incredibly awkward, and affect your non-work relationships (with your friends, your acquaintances, and your family in cases 1-3 respectively).

If you act like a reasonable human being and compromise in those corner cases, then there's no harm in dropping the absolute rule from the beginning (and judging what an appropriate relationship would be on a case-by-case basis), since creating the iron curtain of work-life balance will strain professional relationships.

Business is People

Not socializing at all outside of work (even lunches) is going to rub many people the wrong way. Regardless of your justification, people are social creatures by nature, and refusing to indulge that nature due to having a working relationship will not make sense to many people.

The perception will depend on the person, but some things people may assume about you are:

  • You are socially inept
  • You do not like your coworkers
  • You are not a "team player"
  • You are planning to leave the company soon
  • You have a "questionable" personal life

Depending on who has what perception, this could impact your career/quality of life by:

  • Lack of choice in what projects get assigned
  • Getting passed over for promotions
  • Getting worse performance evaluations
  • Getting lower performance bonuses/raises
  • Being denied non-essential requests (attending conferences, etc.)
  • Being first on the chopping blocks for any restructuring
  • Being denied recommendation letters

These things will also affect your social life. By forgoing healthy relationships with coworkers (with this work-life iron curtain) you run a higher risk of being transferred to a distant office, or reducing your quality of life (vacation time, income, etc.) which will backfire and have a larger impact on your non-work life.

At the end of the day, perhaps you don't mind a dead-end career and boring work, but any way I look at it, you are giving up far more by creating such a draconian rule than you would by using a bit of common sense and making decisions on a case-by-case basis.

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Is it ok to be strict that way? I have noticed many people do socialise with co-workers, but I feel it just to be trouble waiting to happen, besides it being a bit weird.

Yes, it is ok, but be aware this may have some unintentional career consequences.

This answer to a different question talks about the importance of image/exposure to career growth. A lot of the "non-tangibles" can happen in these interactions, friendships get built, etc.

A question about smoke breaks has a similar core problem too. If your coworkers routinely discuss work or projects over a beer after work or while golfing or on a smoke break or whatever they do, it will be more difficult to fully feel part of the team.

Much of this effect is based on how much socialization your coworkers do (and if they "take work" there at all). I had previous coworkers who went out every Wednesday night for Pint Night - I did not go for a variety of reasons and this definitely caused me to not be part of the "in" crowd.

  • Wouldn't these "get togethers" where work is discussed over a beer or golf be considered to be work? (As far as IRS is concerned at least it'd be tax deductable). But yes I agree with the sentiment. – aseq May 16 '13 at 20:09
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    @aseq - If the team goes out, it is normally a social thing and not a work thing, even if they do end up discussing work. – Oded May 16 '13 at 20:20
  • I understand, but if the majority of talk is work talk it would be a work event (like a work lunch). Similarly if a boss requires you to join a lunch, then it is work. – aseq May 16 '13 at 20:52
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Of course it is OK to separate the two. There are well known issues with mixing the two too much (office romances that don't end well, for example).

It is entirely up to you how entangled your work life and personal life are. To some people, the two are one and the same, to others the two are completely and utterly separate.

Most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Do keep in mind though that keeping such a strict separation can have consequences on your professional life - the people who are more sociable are more likely to advance in the workplace (for various reasons - being better acquainted with different people in the workplace, not being known as anti-social in the workplace etc...).

This may very well be an issue that you can live with - it is your decision and it is OK.

  • +1 Sound very sensible. I think keeping more separation is better than messing up some socialising. The latter could create some uncomfortable situations. Yes I care less about advancing by means of more socialising. – aseq May 16 '13 at 20:04
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All of this is very interesting. I see this as a greater picture however. I think it all depends on one's personality. The way I see it - life is too short and if you are friendly like me :) you would be approaching everyone talking to them :) and get the best out of it as well. Because you would go beyond the level of having a complex that someone might think that you are weird or just strange. I was born and raised where no one talked to anyone and everyone was gossiping and talking bad about others. When you go through this excessively, you realize it is not worth it and that you should be nice to people, and 'kill' rude people with kindness.

To go back to your statement/doubt/question, you should have balance and know what's appropriate to share with colleagues and what's not, but at the end of the day the most important thing is that you are happy and pleased with yourself and how you carry yourself around others. Since you have to look yourself into the mirror every morning :)

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