• Making Friends

Need advice: I feel like a recluse at work

Published: November 11, 2012 | By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
Making friends at work can feel daunting once you’ve isolated yourself from colleagues


Hi Dr. Irene,

I am a 41-year-old female who is having a horrible time establishing cordial relationships at work. I do the best I can at my job (I am a social worker) and I get along with my supervisor.

When I first started my job, I would chitchat with coworkers sometimes. Then more and more, I became like a recluse. I go in, sit at my desk to do my job, and basically stay in my cubby.

I currently have no friends and have not had a friend since I finished high school at the age of 17. It bothers me that I cut myself off from others and I do not know why I do this. It is not intentional.

I’d like some advice on how to develop better relationships with my co-workers.

Signed, Hella


Hi Hella,

It sounds like you have a hard time making and sustaining friendships and tend to be a loner—so it’s not surprising that these same problems would transfer over into your workplace. In fact, for a variety of reasons, workplace friendships can be even trickier to make and sustain than friendships outside.

From what you say, you want to connect with other people but are having a hard time doing so. Since you haven’t been able to make any friends for many years and this appears to be a persistent pattern, you would likely benefit by speaking individually to someone (e.g. a counselor or mental health professional) who can help you figure out why this is happening and how to overcome these difficulties.

It also occurs to me that you may be anxious or depressed—either of these conditions can hold someone back from socializing. Hopefully, a skilled professional will be able to help you sort things out. Recognizing that it is a pattern you want to change is a great first step.

Additionally, you may want to read some of the other posts on this blog that talk about specific approaches for making new friends. My suggestion would be to begin trying to make a friend or two outside of work. Do you have some interest or hobby that can put you in contact with other people?

Unfortunately, if you have become a recluse at work, it will be somewhat difficult to break out of that role but you should make a conscious effort to smile or greet at least one person in your office warmly each day. People are likely to respond in kind.

Warm regards, Irene

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Comments (7)

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  1. Shell says:

    I have always had a hard time maintaining friendships. For many years I was uncomfortable in social situations, felt dumb, and had no confidence. Then I decided to go to college, realized that I wasn’t dumb, I graduated suma cum laude! I am passionate about my job as a special education teacher and am very good at what I do. I am confident in my work and my work ethic. However, I seem to still put people off. I know part of it is that I am confident in my work and know the special education laws that go with my job and some of the other teachers are threatened by this. I try to share ideas, be a team player and be helpful to my co workers. But, I hear perfectionist and we better watch our jobs, or when I shared something one too many times I was told I was rubbing it in their face (jokingly). I said I don’t mean it that way, just wanted to share. I have stopped sharing. People usually like me for the first month of knowing me then it seems that everyone withdraws from me and I even become the butt of jokes.

    I have had to get on to one of my aides about not following legal procedures. She has been disrespectful to me and still won’t follow the legal paperwork. I told my boss I was having some difficulty getting her to comply. My boss gave me advice, which happened to be exactly what I had been doing. My aide has grown more disrespectful and has complained about me to our co workers. They seemed to take her side more and more as time went on. She also complained to my boss and the lead teacher and all of a sudden I’m this super bad person that picked on my poor aid. I wasn’t hateful, rude or in any way negative. Just asked her to please follow procedure and explained why it was important to do so.

    I was told by my boss not to get on to her again, that she tries hard.

    I have no friends at work and no one I can go to for advice. Honestly, her not following procedure could get our school sued.

    My boss has not asked to talk to me about “my” side of things and when I asked for a conference I have been put off or ignored.

    I don’t understand what I am doing wrong? Someone please help?

  2. jacqueline says:

    Maybe you are shy? Suffer from low self-esteem? Did something happen after you graduated high school for you not to have had any friends since??

    Hella,you stated you did not know why you keep away from people, that it is not intentional. I agree with Irene and Amy – therapy is an excellent idea.

    • canrelate says:


      I can relate. Some of my tricks to come out of my shell–when I feel like it. I greet people at the copy machine. I bring snacks to the office. I post funny articles at my cubicle. I put snacks in a bowl in my cubicle–if they stop for a snack, then they might stay to say high. For the holidays, I sometimes leave little gifts on everyone’s chair.

      I’m not a joiner, and tend to stay busy with my work throughout the day. The best times for me to be social is at lunch time, or in the morning when I first arrive. I force myself to eat lunch maybe twice per week. I try to plan ahead for topics that may be in the newspaper, television or a recent movie I’ve seen or a book I am reading.

      I give genuine compliments if I like a coworker’s outfit, shoes, jewelry, etc.

      Sometimes these things work, sometimes not. When I’m not “feeling it” I find a quiet place to eat my lunch alone. . . and that’s okay with me.

  3. amy says:

    I have a degree in social work and I could have written your letter during my field placement. I shared office space with 4 other interns who were ten-years younger than me (I called them the Valley-Girls, because, like, you know, everything was totally awesome–but my sarcastic sense of humor didn’t help me one bit). I’d have to say do everything opposite of what I did and you’ll be fine. But, seriously, I was going through a horrible time in my life, preparing for a rape trial. I was depressed and I needed to be a recluse just to keep myself from imploding. Unfortunately, this was horrible for establishing the necessary rapport I needed to succeed on the job.
    My advice to you would be to seek therapy, possibly group therapy, to help you learn, in a safe environment, if there are reasons you’re not connecting with others. If you’re depressed or having personal problems, that makes acting friendly hard, so you might be putting out vibes which you’re not aware of. Group therapy can help you address this in a safe environment.
    In my placement, I found an intern colleague closer to my age, in another part of the agency, who had similar frustrations with being older than the young women who went to grad school right out of undergrad. We were in similar stages in life and she saved my butt a few times by letting me know people thought I unfriendly because I avoided conversation. On my last evaluation my supervisor said she noticed me making efforts to be friendlier (though she never mentioned that I was unfriendly), Our friendship ended at the end of the year, when we graduated–she stayed with the agency, I went on for another degree–having her as an ally made work bearable. I never told her about the rape stuff, or the depression, we stayed mostly superficial (and I didn’t share that with anyone at the time) I eventually decided to work for myself, because I tend to be introverted and uncomfortable with office politics and forced relationships.
    I hope you can find a friend or two so that work is more comfortable for you. If you decide to go the group therapy route, I think you’ll prefer a closed group run by a therapist to a self-help group. I may be biased, but self-help groups to me are better for specific external problems like addictions, rather than interpersonal relationships since the latter benefits from a trained facilitator, in my opinion.
    Good luck. I really feel for you.

    • Kathy says:

      Hi Amy, these are great suggestions. I’m 47 and been so unsocial at work for the last 12 yrs. I’m more comfortable just doing my work,listening to Pandora, and staying in my area. At times it does bother me about myself like if I hear my co-workers laughing and having a good time down the hall. I do feel left out, but ive done it to myself; but then I can think back to kindergarten with all the kids, sitting in circle and everyone singing. I don’t remember myself ever singing..I remember feeling content just watching everyone else. Maybe this is just how I am. I often wish I could work for myself..my peace of mind would be so much better. Could I ask what you do for a living? Kathy

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