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Office friendships: When you are neither fish nor fowl

December 21, 2015 | By | 8 Replies Continue Reading
A reader finds office friendships taxing because of her unique role at work.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I am a professional nurse and counselor working on staff at a large Protestant church. My private office is in the church office area. The pastors have their own “clique” which is their professional group. I am occasionally invited to social events with them but these are ministry related.

The “office staff’ tend to be social but do not include me in any ‘after work’ activity unless I invite them. I truly do not enjoy being social with the pastors as I receive referrals from them. The office staff is loud and often inappropriate. Some of them are also my clients and come to me for counseling.

It is awkward making friends here because of the relationships and confidentiality by which I am bound. Yet, it is hurtful when the office goes out and does not include me, then talks about their events in front of me the next staff meeting.

Since I serve in ministry to this large congregation, I also need to retain a professional distance. Is this wise or should I reach out? There is also the concern about confidentiality, which is why I think I am on everyone’s “C” list socially. Suggestions?

Signed, Arlene

ANSWER

Hi Arlene,

As a counselor in the church, you have a different role and distinctly different responsibilities than either the pastors or the office staff.

While you are struggling to figure out an appropriate way to relate to your colleagues, I’m sure that they are also uncertain about how they should interact with you—both at work and outside the office.

As a counselor, your first responsibility is to your clients. I don’t think there is any “fix” for feeling the way you do about the social aspects of work other than to realize why this is occurring (which you do). Also, you need to make sure you nurture and maintain friendships outside the workplace.

It’s common for CEOs, too, to say that it’s “lonely at the top.” One of my former supervisors made a habit of meeting monthly with colleagues from other organizations. Similarly, you might see if there is a professional network of church counselors in your area with whom you can discuss the occupational and social challenges of your work.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS, Workplace friendships

Comments (8)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    You’re in a unique situation. I understand it can feel hurtful when you’re left out. I personally don’t think the office staff does this on purpose. They just don’t see you as a member of the pack. And they are right. You have a different position. It’s not personal, keep that in mind, but my guess is that even if you get more involved their view of you won’t change. I think Irene is right on. Find people in a similar position as yours or find more friends outside of these groups. You also write the office staff is loud. So, are these really people you want to be friends with?

  2. Lauren says:

    Hi Arlene,

    Irene’s advice is excellent. Follow Irene’s advice and suggestion regarding meetings. This should make things run smoothly, and you will feel pleased to be handling your work life in the best and in the most professional way.

  3. Bridget says:

    I can see why this would hurt though. i worked in an office where co-workers were friendly, but excluded me, social events, news, not even a Merry Christmas. I had to initiate that even though I saw them wish merry Christmas to others.They all knew of 9-11, and no one told me. We worked on a mainframe with about a dozen people. They sabotage my work, security thought it was Ok, I could have impaled myself on the chair back when someone loosened the back to fall off the pole. i had the sole of my shoes for when It snowed, cut a hole in it, in the hopes that glass? nail? etcetera would injure my foot.

    It’s probably tough, but you should just do your job and socialize outside. I have to say watching shows where the office goes out for a drink, made me sad, just as shows that have nice brothers, makes me sad. You just have to ignore the idiots, do your job. They are not worth it. Since you have a complicated relationship it would be better to leave the socializing outside. As long as they don’t sabotage work, lie to management about you, you have it made.

  4. LauraSL says:

    It sounds like this is a case of “It’s nice to be asked, but I really don’t want to go.” Irene nailed it with reaching out to make friends in your peer group.

  5. Maddie says:

    I practice medicine. It is extremely important that you do not cross the professional/friendship line with any of your clients. It may seem benign at first but could mean the death of your career in the end. People are unpredictable. Find your friendship outside of work. I am on a friendly, professional basis with my staff and patients that never spills over into outside relationships. Every word a client speaks to you is covered by HIPAA. Even the fact that they see you.

    Go to work, enjoy and do your job, and then go home to your personal life.

  6. Virginia Pleban says:

    I think getting too friendly in an office environment leads to nothing but trouble. I found this out many years ago in working. Trying to be friendly with everyone is just about impossible. Socializing should be left outside of the office. Supervisory staff will notice and may have an issue with focusing on “getting along with people”. Work is just that. Socialize when you are done working. Keeping it more professional will make it easier for everyone concerned.

  7. Irene, I think your advice is spot on. I’ve been in the “boss” position. I think one could facilitate office comraderie by perhaps having a monthly birthday cake break, but other than that, most employees don’t really relax when the boss attends a social event. I think the advice to seek out social/networking events with one’s peer group makes a lot of sense.

  8. Amy F says:

    I’m not clear as to whether you want to be friendly with your colleagues or you don’t. You’ve called them cliquy or inappropriate, so I’m not certain what about their friendship seems appealing. It almost sounds like you want to be included so you won’t feel excluded, not because particularly like these people or value them. Maybe your coworkers feel awkward around you, because of your professional role. I am ethically prohibited from socializing with clients by the code of ethics, but also by my own personal code of ethics. Perhaps the office staff has picked up on a vibe that you find them “loud and inappropriate” and see you as judgmental. In my opinion, your letter does sound judgmental as you’ve said nothing positive about the people with whom you want to socialize.

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