Dear Wayne and Wanda,
About a year ago, I accepted a new position within my company. It meant moving from a large group where we mostly worked solo to a small team that does more creative, collaborative work. Overall the change has been very positive. Where I’m struggling is with my coworkers.
They’re all very nice people and have worked together a long time. I was a little intimidated initially about fitting in, worried I would feel left out. It turns out, the problem is just the opposite. They have bent over backwards to make me feel included — at all hours of the day, seven days a week.
There are constantly group texts after hours and on weekends too. Sometimes it’s about work but mostly it’s pop culture, sports — you name it. I’m the only one who doesn’t respond to texts and they’ve made some comments about it. They also all immediately friended me on my social channels, which I felt obligated to accept, even though I prefer to keep work and social life separate. That’s the main reason I don’t respond to the texts; I’ve always been someone who likes to be all-in on my job but when it’s quitting time, leave that behind.
I have my own friends, social circles, hobbies, and preferred methods of after-hours unwinding. It doesn’t include constantly interacting with my coworkers, as nice as they are. How can I convey this without sounding like a jerk?
Decades ago, out-of-office socializing was more neatly compartmentalized. It might have meant joining the company softball team or meeting up for an occasional potluck. Those avenues remain in play, but now in our time of super-connectivity, social networks, instant messaging and more, it’s harder and harder to draw a line at where the workday ends; and likewise, it can be increasingly challenging to back away from an undercurrent of networking and professional bonding.
Your clean break at the end of a workday might be a bit of an analogue expectation, especially considering the fact that you knowingly joined a small and social work group with lots of shared history and affection, with a well-established culture of collegial geniality. Yes, you can draw boundaries. For example, you could share that you’re going to bow out of group lunches because you’re on a budget, watching your nutrition, or are simply taking that time to catch up on personal things. Or you could let them know on weekends, you prefer to fully unplug and you don’t respond to most messages.
But know that, in doing that, you may likely feel less included, and you may miss out on crucial bonding points, essential work information that’s shared in more casual channels, and the chance to better get to know your team. You may even offend them. It’s your call, your life, and your boundaries. Just be sure you understand the tradeoffs.
Well, you wanted to fit it and didn’t want to be left out, right? Well, here you are — fully accepted as a member of the tight-knit and totally-cool work fam, and included in everything! Oh, now it’s too much for you? Come on ...
When you wrote your note to us and admitted your fears of being isolated in the new team dynamic, did you actually take yourself back to that anxiety you felt before starting the job? Maybe if you did, you’d remember that you actually got exactly what you were wishing for.
So why isolate yourself from the group now by ignoring them? Why insult your family ... er, teammates by telling them to back off? Why not just roll with it? Does it really ruin your weekend or your afterwork gym session to see a dozen notifications about nothing pop up? Just read them when you have a minute and move on. Heck, contribute to the convo occasionally to prove that you’re actually interested, interesting, and one of them. Or, hear me out here, consider putting your phone away when you’re doing something you don’t want interrupted. Crazy, I know.
Bottom line: They wouldn’t be blowing you up if they didn’t love having you on the team and in their work and extended lives. Could be a lot worse — the work world is brutal, if you haven’t noticed. Millions of disgruntled, lonely. ignored or downright depressed people would love to have your problem. And ultimately, you control your emotions and reactions to this, so it’s really only as annoying as you allow it to be.