The first year or so I worked at The Muse, I came to the office, sat at my desk, and went home—save for the occasional coffee date and mandatory team get-togethers.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people I worked with. In fact, they’re the reason I took this job! I just had a lot of other stuff outside of work that took precedence (including a new city to adjust to, friends to stay in touch with, family to visit, hobbies to maintain, and chores to complete).
The point is, I just didn’t consider bonding with my co-workers outside of the office a top priority. Of course, as I settled into my new surroundings, my personal life did eventually calm down—and I started hanging out with my co-workers way more.
But even now, there are times when work activities have to take a back seat. The Muse is an especially outgoing and active group, and falling behind the crowd can sometimes make me feel guilty—as if I’m not being a good team member if I’m not participating in every little thing.
In many cases this feeling is totally self-imposed—nobody’s really holding it against me. But, working at a company that places a lot of value on socializing can inspire a hefty sense of shame in those moments when you’d rather forego more team bonding and do your own thing.
Why It’s OK to Ditch Work Social Events
Maybe this is the case at your company. Or, maybe you’re looking to make friends in a new role and, every time you miss an event, you’re convinced that you’re losing a prime opportunity to lock those relationships down.
But as Muse writer Stacey Lastoe has argued, you shouldn’t ever feel like you have to make friends at the office or attend work social events at any cost.
Sure, you could keep dragging yourself to events that you have no real interest in, but keeping this charade up is exhausting and not always productive. As long as you’re happy with the rest of your job, she says—you feel respected, your ideas are heard, you enjoy the work you’re doing—it’s OK to let this one thing go.
Whether you’re three months or three years in, introverted or extroverted, looking to make friends or not, socializing with your co-workers should be something you choose to do. Having a good relationship with the people you work with is important for clear communication, productivity, and overall job satisfaction, but that relationship can simply be an in-the-office, professional kind.
Yes, there are times when activities will be heavily encouraged, if not mandatory, like offsites, retreats, or networking events. And in these moments, you’re maybe sacrificing more than just social status by not participating—you’re missing out on a chance to get to know your colleagues, build a stronger team, or even do your job well. But most companies ultimately won’t force you to do something you truly don’t feel comfortable doing.
More importantly, the best bosses and co-workers (and work friends) understand that certain things come first, whether it’s family or hobbies or personal preferences. Chances are, there have also been plenty of instances when they’ve had to miss out on a team activity because something else was more important.
How to Get Out of Your Next Work Social Event
Here’s the thing: I’m all too familiar with the difference between knowing you’re allowed to say “no” to work social events and actually having to break the news to your co-workers that you’re going to skip one.
Sometimes peer pressure sets in and guilts you into attending, and you’re stuck doing something you really don’t want to do. While I can’t guarantee that won’t happen—some people might just continue to pester you or nag you about being a recluse—know that you can dodge their invites respectfully while still keeping the relationships intact.
The key in any rejection is to not make it personal. Instead, focus on your decision and why you can’t or won’t join this time. For example, you can say, “Sounds like fun! Unfortunately, something’s come up: [family emergency or conflict]. Pencil me in for the next one?” or “You know I love hanging with you all, but if I’m being completely honest, [activity] isn’t my thing. I hope you have a blast, though!”
Or, you can just skip the specifics, thank them, and politely decline: “Thanks for inviting me! I can’t make it, but have a great time!” or “Appreciate you including me, but I already have plans.” In most cases, they’ll accept your rejection and move on.
Moral of the story? No one should be holding it against you that you’re not always showing up to social events as long as you’re doing your job well. After all, that’s what you’re really being paid to do.