Forced Socializing At Work

Last year, I wrote about how I did a little online research to find out exactly how introverts are perceived at work, and I responded to some of the opinions I found online in this post. One of the points I made is about how employers seem to be incorporating personalities and being sociable into work environments, which is quite disadvantageous to introverts.

One thing employers like to do nowadays is force socializing. For example, sometimes you have after-work parties and everyone is expected to be there. The thought that someone wouldn’t want to be there never crosses the organizer’s mind. The job I had prior to my last job–the one I had while I wrote the post to which I link above–forced socializing at times. I remember on my last day working there, the other techs had been called into one of the owners’ office to talk about some after-work holiday party–either Thanksgiving or Christmas, can’t remember. As if you don’t spend enough time with people at work…yeah, you really want to show up after work to hang with them some more.

And not long before I left that place, there was some other little thing forced on us…I can’t remember why, but we were all expected to bring a dish–not even just bring one, but actually cook it. Oh, yeah, it was a Potluck. Fuck that schitt, man–I don’t cook. But the b!tch who organized it would have been pissed if I declined to bring something, because she was precisely that type of woman. In fact, I think she sent me and a few other people an email after a while because we hadn’t signed up yet, and, if I remember correctly, in the email she claimed we didn’t have to bring anything. But you could tell–we were indirectly being pressured. You better believe I headed to Kroger, purchased a little thingy of potato salad, put it in a plastic tupperware container as if I had prepared it and was done with those b!tches.

This was that place where everyone I worked with was white, and I noticed cultural differences all the time. This Potluck was one of those times. For some reason, the old[er] non-tech bitties and I ended up talking about how my father is a better cook than my mother and how my mother almost never cooks. They started with all this crap like, “Oh, my gosh, a woman who doesn’t cook…how do you keep a man” or whatever they said, but that was basically the gist. They couldn’t fathom a woman not cooking. And this is cultural both racially and generationally. I’m not saying black women don’t cook, but black women are more often the sole breadwinners, make more money than their husbands or just have some sort of job that keeps her out of the home. This is not how white households are. A lot of older white women are housewives or have somewhat of a housewife mentality because they grew up with mothers who were housewives or during a time when a lot of mothers were housewives (where they lived). Ask a black woman, and if she’s being real with you she’ll let you know that most of us think being a housewife is one of the dumbest things we’ve ever heard.

Black women have too much going on to cook all the time, and their roles often overlap that which has been traditionally thought of as “male roles”–especially more often than white women’s roles do (as I said, black women tend to make more money than their male counterparts and are also more likely to even be employed than their male counterparts are. Both of my sisters make more money than their husbands do–one of my sisters is her household’s sole breadwinner). And you also now have a generation of all kinds of women who want to be working professionals and will not even be home at dinner time, let alone cook it. Nevertheless, their comments kind of pissed me off. This is the kind of crap in which I’m forced to participate with these damn Potlucks and holiday parties and other nonsense I don’t want to attend.

So, this morning I just decided “thanks, but no thanks” and skipped the stupid little breakfast party that my co-worker Linda told me about. I contemplated my childhood and how, whether I was around or not at certain things at school, no one really seemed to know or care. Why would anyone notice or care if I don’t go to this breakfast thing? I figured no one would give a schitt. And even if they did, I hadn’t been told this thing was mandatory, and you almost always get a pass when you can say “no one told me” or “I didn’t know.”

Oh…my…world…turns out almost everybody noticed and cared…including my manager. I could barely even listen to my music for all the people harassing me about why I wasn’t at the breakfast. That’s really all I wanted to do today–listen to music, get my work done and go home. I didn’t want to sit around fake-laughing at co-workers making fun of each other…um, co-workers who are pretty much all at least in their 30s, but they make fun of each other all day. Even the manager gets in on it. Gimme a break…The most peace I had all day at work was the hour they were all gone to breakfast. Plus, only certain people are allowed to make fun of me, and that doesn’t include anyone I barely know, like co-workers.

I was really wrong about how little people would care, too. For starters, turns out that while I was relieving a craving for Dr. Pepper, Linda told another co-worker to make sure he brings me to the breakfast. I didn’t know this at the time, so when he was insisting that I come with him and another co-worker, I was thinking, “Dude, what the hell…?” He just kept telling me to come with him and wanted to know why I didn’t want to go. The co-worker who was with him happens to be related to my manager, and I’m sure she heard me when I told this guy, “I’m not going to that.” I’m sure she heard the way I said it, too, and I would bet she told our manager.

Anyway, when the co-worker responsible for bringing me to the breakfast came back, he told me Linda had food at her station. My friend/co-worker Clara kept telling me about food that was left over. It was like these people were trying to make me eat. My co-worker Corey, with whom I worked on a project last week, said something to me about not going to the breakfast. He tries to make me eat, as well, because I told him that I never eat breakfast and almost never eat lunch. He probably thinks I’m anorexic, but I definitely don’t look it. Linda acted almost horrified that I didn’t go and wanted to know if my co-worker had told me about it, where it was located, etc–that’s how I found out she told him to bring me.

And, of course, my manager said something about it. He basically let me know indirectly that garbage like that is mandatory for social reasons and that I should be at the next one. Why is stuff that people at work think up as ways to have “fun” mandatory? “Fun” and “mandatory” don’t go together, and that’s why my job is just my job to me. It has nothing to do with socializing, and, to me, it shouldn’t. Jobs are about making a living, paying for stuff that is actually fun (like my upcoming trip to Michigan to see my alma mater beat our rival Notre Dame) and paying bills; otherwise, I wouldn’t be working. See? Mandatory, not fun. That’s why all I think about at work is getting my work done, listening to music (to help me get through un-fun work) and going home. I’m not thinking about food or hanging with co-workers. (And yes, I do know work is not 100% mandatory…see the “housewife” stuff above.)

Clara and Linda didn’t let it go, either. Clara asked me again later why I didn’t go to the breakfast, and I just told her I didn’t think anyone would notice. She said that not that many people work in our area at work, so people would notice. But, I pointed out to her, I only really communicate with her at work (so why would others notice if I’m not there?). She took that as my saying that I didn’t go because I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to, which is part of it but not the point, and she said I could have sat by her.

I know that, to many people, socializing is the way they deal with un-fun, mandatory work. And they can’t even begin to understand people like me who just want to work, just want to listen to music and don’t want to go to social events or stand around half the day talking. And, for me, it’s not even about not liking my co-workers–I like most of them, and I’m fine with them one-on-one. But a room full of them, where we’re expected to socialize for an hour, is not my idea of a good time. I don’t really think it’s any introvert’s idea of a good time. It’s actually more anxiety-producing than anything else. That’s what I don’t think people understand when they come up with these work social events.

Whatever people might think about this communication style, I speak to people who speak to me…meaning if someone doesn’t initiate a conversation with me, we’re not going to have a conversation. There are very few exceptions. Some of it is just not being interested in talking to most people. Some of it is a lack of social skills. But some of it is, again, thinking back on my childhood. For example, when I was growing up, if some people were having a conversation and you inserted yourself into it–let’s say these are black people–oftentimes one of them would say something like, “Ain’t nobody talking to you!” Or “This is an A and B conversation–C your way out.” White people might just look at you like you’re crazy.

So, I’ve realized over the last few months that I believe people shouldn’t enter conversations unless they’re invited to do so. Something has changed over the years, because now if you don’t go up to people and just start talking, people want to know why you never speak to anybody.

Now I’m just wondering how I’m going to be able to tolerate the next social event at work. After I spoke with my manager, I thought about how I hope my job doesn’t have another one of these things before I move on to another job. Unfortunately, because of this trend where work and social life are expected to intertwine, the problem is not going to go away, nearly regardless of where I work. It’ll probably just get worse…until someone comes up with “Sensitivity Training In the Workplace” geared towards understanding and working with introverts.

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16 thoughts on “Forced Socializing At Work

  1. pger98 says:

    Good post. You nailed it head on for me.

    I agree with the inserting yourself into a conversation taking place. Being told that ‘I need to make an effort,’ pisses me off because I hate inserting myself into a conversation is rude, and I do not want to be labeled that person. I have tried it, and don’t get a rosy response. If you talk to me, I will talk back.

    Food Day is popular. I have tried bringing things, and these people eat none of it. I have taken it personally a few times. Why waste my freaking money on something I hate in the first place. OR, I am ‘forgotten’ on the invite.

    I have stopped trying to make an effort. I have nothing in common with my team. There is only so much I can do to ‘make an effort.’ All I want to do is come do my work, smile, and go home.

    • Yeah, the potato salad I bought…it was barely eaten. I took it back home and am almost positive most of it got thrown out. Waste of money, unless you bring a good dessert.

  2. definitely.overrated says:

    I can handle some workplace social functions, but I honestly hate it when the high-level execs suddenly spring on us some social event that ends up being mandatory (without directly saying it) because they’re looking to live up to some image, or seriously believe we want to make the office our whole life.

    I can see a potluck with my direct team, or once-in-a-while going for drinks with some folks…but the 800-1000 person event that takes place beyond workplace hours? No thanks.

    I’m like you. This is JUST A JOB for me. I want to do my work, go home, and live my life there…but unfortunately too many “management gurus” brainwashed the higher-ups to believe that we’re supposed to be some community/family. And they wonder why turnover is so high?

    Skip the functions and give that money to the employees as bonuses/raises.

  3. dee kelley says:

    Excellent article! Get a new job..can u..did u?
    I’m dealing w same & will look. Never thought I was an introvert, but forced socialization -esp. group-stresses me.
    “They say u seem closed.” So! I’m professional n friendly n efficient !
    Wtf! Sigh! AND THATS MY FKN X!

  4. Introgirl says:

    Oh my gosh…..I could have written this. I have successfully avoided this year’s Christmas potluck (today) but not without multiple email reminders and inquisitions into what I was bringing / why hadn’t I signed up yet. I blamed it on having to go home during lunch and let out my elderly dog who can’t hold his bladder. That is not all a lie – – I had rather spend time with him. It’s not awkward, at least. My coworkers also get rather pushy and annoying about it – – “oh, come and join us”…”it’ll be fun and good food”. No, no and no!!!

    Now I have a new dilemma – – they have all started celebrating EVERYONE’S birthday at their restaurant of choice. Mine falls on the same day as another person’s, so they picked the restaurant. I told the manager that I did not want to celebrate my birthday (I have been successfully avoided everyone else’s thus far this year). Low and behold, an email comes out inviting about 30 people to celebrate MY birthday and the other person’s at a local pizza place. I DO NOT want to be obligated to spend time with any of these people at their birthdays and I certainly do not want to waste time on my own birthday with them. Besides, I don’t want to waste money every week or so going to a different restaurant for birthdays! How do you suggest I get out of this one?

    I don’t necessarily dislike them, either, with the exception of a couple. It’s just that searching my brain to find mindless and meaningless things to discuss leaves me wiped out and hateful. Heck – – just being in the presence of a bunch of people sucks the very life out of me and I have to recharge by myself.

    • Can you not just not show up? To me, once you’ve told someone no, it’s on them if they don’t “get” it. When they ask you why you weren’t there the next day, just tell them you’d already told your manager that’s not what you wanted to do for your birthday.

      • Linda says:

        I’m going through the same thing at work. I like some of my co-workers, but others make it extremely uncomfortable to be around. We are all teachers in one of the few schools in our district located in the inner-city. Our grade-level representative is an emotionally needy individual who has a “whoe is me” mentally about growing up in a dysfunction family and has battled through a health crisis as a means to justify her need to constantly overstep boundaries and guilt others into attending these totally unnecessary social functions at work. She even was sending text group messages to everyone over the weekend in an effort to stay connected. It reached a breaking point when I had to bluntly tell her last summer to remove me from the text message thread because she and all who were responding were blowing up my data plan allowance while I was vacationing in the Mediterranean last summer. This was after I had not responded to numerous text messages sent outside of work hours the whole school year before. I also told her numerous times that I did not have the time or choose to spend the money to participate in “birthday celebrations” to try and get her off of my back. She kept approaching me to the point where I had to tell her I work through my lunches so that I can leave early and spend my time and money on my family and real friends. She STILL kept perusing me and tried even harder to make me a friend in really bizarre ways, like taking it upon herself to set mandatory two-hour Christmas performance rehearsals for our gradr level for one whole week when I previously explained to her I could only devote five minutes a day over the course of four weeks for my class to practice their song for the performance. She gets away with this behavior because she “kisses everyone’s butt” and speaks in this child-like voice which is high-pitch and super annoying. To ado to all of this, most of my other co-workers are dreadful to be around because they make elitist comments about the students’ background in regards to the cultures and neighbor. Every judgemental sentence begins with “These people. ” Oh I forgot to mention I’m one of the few Blacks on faculty and I, too, am from the inner-city. This has no bearing on them and I have mentioned it to some of them, but they just keep insulting. It has been this way throughout my whole career and obviously is not effectively addressed by the school district. I don’t understand why some of these same people continue to work at my school if it is such a miserable place when they have the option to transfer. The thing is they figure they have it easy to work with parents who don’t question their grading as compared with parents who do so in the suburban areas of our school district.

  5. Rachel says:

    I hate companies that attempt to force you to socialise. They always take the approach that “it’s really important for us that you come.” When bosses have the gall to say that to me, I just say “and why do you think what is important to you should matter to me?” Yes, it’s rude. But so is narcissistically announcing that someone should do something they clearly don’t want to just because it suits you.

    Christmas dos are a particularly egregious example of this behaviour. I don’t drink, and I don’t appreciate the generally-inappropriate behaviour people seem to feel entitled to engage in at these events, so I don’t go. Some years I’ve had the “the talk” from some manager that doesn’t know me very well, trying to pressure me to have their idea of a good time. I always just cut them dead and ask “why do you think it’s OK to try and force employees to spend their free time with you?” They never have an answer, and it’s usually my queue that it’s not a place or a boss I’ll enjoy being around much longer. If they were smart enough just to take “no thanks” for my first answer, they’d retain my services for longer, which is all I was really offering them in the first place.

  6. Introvert Gert says:

    Wow I’m also going through this right now. It’s made me second guess myself and feel way more insecure than usual, believe me I’m making an effort to fit in, but inside I feel resistance to do so. I feel so annoyed because I want to do well at this job but they don’t take their jobs seriously, so it’s hard to stay motivated. I do act friendly and easy going, it’s just exhausting! I’ve worked in different offices before where we socialized but this new job is different it’s way less diverse, it’s all women mostly white, and all middle of the road mentality, their conversations remove around food, tv, weather, getting married, getting pregnant, something their husband/boyfriend did, shit talking about clients, etc..No greater ambitions than that. In less than a month I’ve brought in food for two office potlucks, both barely eaten, one was thrown away hardly touched, that pissed me off because I would’ve taken it home. My new strategy will be to not to spend more than $2.00 on a dish, so if they toss it out again, no big loss. My coworkers go out to eat almost day, I declined a few times and just told them I was on a budget, which is true. They are starting to leave me out of things, which sucks because I don’t want to be the office pariah, but I want to make a difference in my work. I’m definitely an introvert but also like to socialize, I just don’t have a lot in common with my coworkers, I feel I’m having trouble fitting in. I’m also about 10 years older than all of them due to a career change where I’m starting to build a body of work, so the forced socializing feels more awkward than it should, I like the job but I find it hard to hold a conversation with most of my coworkers. I’ve never told them my age because I think that would make it even more awkward. They already have strong opinions about being “old.” I’m not adding fuel to that fire, age is mentioned at least once a day at the office. I dread the day they ask me mine, my standby reply would be either “I plead the fifth, if you really want to know ask HR.” Or simply “No!” I just think this office environment may not be a sustainable one for me. So one of two things will probably happen, I’ll get promoted outside the department and possibly move to a new office/location or I’ll find the same type of work elsewhere where I can thrive.

  7. Transbutter says:

    This post spoke to my soul! I work at a company that was acquired by a major company. So far I’m not too fond of my team. I feel extremely uncomfortable around them. Maybe because I am the only speck of diversity amongst. Some people in the company I really like but there are some people that make me feel uncomfortable especially since I work at a majority white company.

    Due to the fact that I am an introvert my teammates take it personal and make passive aggressive remarks. I say nothing to them or about them until I need something work related done. I only engage if its work related. However since I am an introvert I am also a HSP( Highly sensitive person) where I have acute emotional intelligence and can feel everything. It sucks. I don’t like being around showy people or people who talk too much.
    My thing is this its nothing personal but they’re the type of people who take it personal so when you reach out for something that is work related they don’t respond nor are helpful. What they don’t seem to understand is that I don’t have to socialize with you, one shouldn’t have anything to do with the other. Since I work with elitist/entitled people who often assume I should go out of my way to engage and speak with them ( which I never do) everything is personal.

    The difference between me is that I don’t feel entitled and need people to speak to me….I would rather you just speak to me if its work related or not at all. Since so many people are self involved they take it personal.

  8. LMT says:

    I went on google to figure out how to explain what I’m going through, and your post absolutely nailed it.

    I’m a licensed massage therapist and over the course of my 34 years was turned into an introvert. I feel like I wasn’t raised like everyone around me. Children were seen and not heard, our opinions did not matter to adults, and trying to interject into a conversation was a serious no-no until I went to college and saw people doing that–it blew my mind. Throw in that some of the people that were closest to me kind of shattered my trust and I gradually became an introvert.

    It’s not that I’m not capable of talking or carrying on a conversation, I just don’t want to. In work environments, the guy pretending to be your friend could be looking for the slightest bit of info to use against you to turn the workplace politic tide in his favor. Or someone could simply be threatened that you do a better job and you get taken out behind your back.

    I don’t buy into the notion of workplace friends because these people would throw you under a bus if they could move ever so slightly ahead. I’m still friendly to others, I’ll smile and speak yet won’t initiate or carry on conversation. Way I see it, I am there to take care of my fiancée and our 2 dogs. And I’m surrounded by people that undermine that.

    I’m good with my clients. They pay me for a massage and I provide that service. My ability as a massage therapist shouldn’t hinge on how much I talk. I’m not there to be your psychologist I am there to fix your pain or relax you.

    I think it is a sad indictment on western society and possibly a good reason why society is under financial collapse. People are too interested in hiring a personality that strokes their social ego rather than the best person for the job.

  9. Jayson says:

    I know exactly how you feel!

    I was raised in a household where we were more reserved, didnt interject oneself into conversations, and knowing that there was a time and place for conversations at school and/or work.

    My current job sends out a lot of mixed messages on this. when I first started..my team mates really didnt want to talk to me..thinking I was eccentric and too weird.

    So after a short time of trying, I gave up and just started doing my own thing. Then people at work started to remark that I never ate with them, talked to them, or went to many of the social functions. I tried to explain how lunch is my personal time, that i had other matters after work…etc…but they werent convinced so I just said that they werent welcoming to me so I just gave up and did my own thing…because why keep trying if someone doesnt want you around.

    I also dont like that they make a big deal about birthdays and anniversaries. If you enjoy that sort of thing, Im happy for you…but if I express nicely that isnt my thing…why isnt that taken into account? They say I should be respectful of someone who goes out of their way to acknowledge it…and I asked wherw is the respect when i express not feeling comfortable nor wanting that. I even asled HR if I could sign something saying I authorize no aknowledgement of my birthday/anniverary…and that I would never complain if it isnt….to no avail.

    I did convince my supervisor to let me work from.home once a week…so that helps. I just wish that respect was a 2 way street.

  10. Kareem says:

    I can relate to everything you said, i hate forced socialization. Im not there to make friends!

  11. Sophia says:

    If my employer isn’t paying me, they don’t get to tell me what to do. I couldn’t care less about my coworkers outside working hours. Leave me the hell alone to do my work and leave when my shift ends. Jean-Paul Sartre was right, Hell is other people

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