Can socialising outside of work have an impact on your career? 

You want to get home, but everyone else in the office is going for a ‘quick drink’.

Are you being sensible refusing the invitation? Or will you appear standoffish with your colleagues? And, crucially, will your reticence to socialise outside work damage your prospects at work?

The days of promotions being down to letting your boss win at golf may be gone. Added to that, stories of sexual harassment linked to work are increasingly common. So socialising outside work can be a minefield.

Let’s be frolleagues…

Many of us meet partners at work. A poll by the TUC said that, one in five of us find long-lasting love in the workplace. While the office environment – and the friendships that we make there – can lead to love, many relationships started at after-office events, whether the Christmas party, Friday night drinks or a team bonding session.

So going out with colleagues can boost your love life – but what about your career? It’s important if you are socialising with colleagues never to let your guard down. Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management advises:

“Social events can be fraught with danger: boundaries are blurred. You need to watch out that you don’t talk about things you wouldn’t discuss in the office. The pub is not the place to share confidential information: you must remain professional even at relaxed events.”

If you don’t trust yourself not to gossip inappropriately or express opinions you’d never own up at work, then it’s probably better to make sure you don’t drink so much your inhibitions go. Career coach Jenny Garrett advises:

“You must remain professional: whatever you do on a night out with colleagues will follow you to work the next morning and what you say will not be forgotten.”

However, not going out with work colleagues can be damaging not only to your social life but potentially to your career. Seeing colleagues outside office hours can be a good way to get to know people and to build friendships and work relationships – or ‘frolleagues’. And we all work better if we’re comfortable with our co-workers. A 2016 study from office design company Peldon Rose found that 91% of employees value friendships at work and two-thirds said social events were important in helping them bond with colleagues. What’s more, 80% said friendships made them more productive at work.

Good for you?

Going out with work colleagues could help you get that promotion.

However, Garrett points out:

“You do need to be good at your job first: socialising is not a substitute for doing a good job. But going out with work colleagues can be a good way to enhance your career. What’s really good about socialising with colleagues is that it lets them get to know you better and to find out things about you they wouldn’t otherwise know. For example, maybe you help out with a group at your church or are involved with a charity: your colleagues may not know about this, but they are skills which could help your career.”

Mills adds: “Social events can give you access to some people from the office you might not know well. You might find that someone you’ve only ever seen in the far distance of your open plan office has a really interesting job and if you connect with them socially, it could be a good career move for you.”

Garrett agrees: “Going to social events raises your profile, gets you known: remember, what’s important for your career is that people at work know who you are and can share a positive opinion on you. They can’t do that if they’ve never met you. It could make the difference between being considered for a project or promotion.”

Are you antisocial if you decline an invitation?

For some of us, even the thought of going out with colleagues is abhorrent.

“Not everyone is an extrovert’ says Mills. “But if the extroverts are out networking, the introverts sitting at home are potentially missing out, which could affect their careers.” She advises the best idea is to go along, but don’t stay long: then you won’t look standoffish and you should come across as a team player – albeit a quiet one.

Garrett adds: “You could partner with someone who is sociable – ask if you can go along with them. And I always suggest it’s a good idea to think of some small-talk questions to break the ice: people always like talking about themselves.”

She suggests that if the idea of a drink in a crowded pub is just too much to bear, why not suggest a one to one meeting such as lunch or coffee with a friend. It’s probably less risky than ending up in a dodgy karaoke bar in the early hours with your boss…

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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