Shortly after you sit down with your boss to talk about what you need to work on and improve before you can move up in the organization and be given greater responsibility, the company-wide email announcing the most recent promotions lands in your inbox. It’s hard not to be happy for your colleagues’ advancement, but it’s also really hard not to feel a little sorry for yourself. Everything your manager said made sense, and you don’t deny the fact that it’s taking you longer than you expected to learn the analytics tools that are a main part of your job, but you still feel frustrated and annoyed, not in the mood to spend your free time with your seemingly superior co-workers.
It’s not unheard of to go through a period where socializing with people you work with feels more like an obligation than a choice. But sometimes, the excuse is easy: You’re planning a wedding, you have family in town, you’re getting ready to move, your dog is sick. When the reason you don’t want to hang out is because you’re struggling on the job, figuring out how to deal is more difficult. Unless you’re planning on quitting ASAP or damaging your professional relationships by cutting ties with everyone, you’ve got to find a way to deftly navigate the situation.
Here’s what to do:
1. Sit it Out
Just because the monthly happy hour used to be your favorite workplace social activity and now the thought of attending and hanging around your colleagues—all of which seem thrilled about this work milestone or that and have no idea what you’re going through—makes you want to run for the covers doesn’t mean the end of fun-times-at-work as you know it. Allow yourself to feel disengaged and choose to opt out. No one needs to know why the social butterfly is suddenly absent, and there’s nothing terribly wrong with using the “I have other plans” excuse, even if those other plans involve you and a bottle of wine.
Taking after-hours time away from the people you work with could give you the space you need to process what’s been going on. Better to skip the alcohol-soaked function than risk overdoing it and blabbing to your new co-worker about how your boss has been riding you.
2. Confide in Someone
Do you have a work wife or husband? A close pal whom you trust? A standing coffee-grabbing co-worker buddy? While venting your workplace frustration to your significant other or roommate can be effective to varying degrees, sometimes it feels like the only people who can truly understand your situation are the ones that report to the same place day in and day out. I’m not suggesting that you blast your struggles through the company-wide slack channel or join the marketing team’s lunch, where you tell-all about the many boxes you’re not checking according to your supervisor, but you don’t have to be completely silent either.
Reaching out to someone trustworthy and sharing your concerns and your boss’ may make you feel better. And if the person you choose to confide in has good advice or can relate in any way, consider that a bonus. Maybe you’ll walk away from the conversation with a clearer understanding of what you need to do to get on solid footing.
3. Use the Time
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself and avoiding your co-workers altogether, take advantage of the time you’d typically be going to happy hours with them or on long Friday lunches and get your professional self sorted. You might get some chiding from people close to you—“What, not coming out with us tonight, Jay? You’re such a workaholic!”—the truth is that if you’re focused on doing your job and doing it well, few of your colleagues are actually going to care if you miss the social outing.
And, shocking, you might even learn that the lengthy lunches were contributing to your problem meeting deadlines. There are times to leave the office at 6 PM and not kill yourself working crazy hours every week, but then there are those periods when, in order to get up to speed and ahead, you need to pull a few late nights. Chances are, you’re not the only one eating lunch at your desk or missing the $5 beers to finish a report.
Your reluctance to socialize with co-workers probably isn’t going to last forever. Once you get over the initial disappointment that your promotion isn’t happening next week and you’ve got a lot to do before you get there, you’ll find yourself eager to engage with your colleagues outside of the workday. It’s OK to hang back for a while and be less of a social butterfly, but remember that your colleagues are your allies. Get inspired by their successes, instead of being resentful of them.
Photo of man having a hard time at work courtesy of KidStock/Getty Images.
Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author