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I feel tension at work because I prefer not to socialize with colleagues. What should I do?


Dear Donna,

I am a relatively new nurse finding myself in a rather bizarre situation of misunderstanding at work.

I go to work to do my job promptly, properly and to the best of my ability. I have worked at a particular facility for almost a year, have never taken a day off, am never late for work and stay until my work is done, which usually is an hour or more after they stop paying me — no overtime is ever paid.

I never dodge the unpleasant parts of my job and always am willing to help the other nurses, including providing my personal equipment to them when the facility equipment fails. My patients are wonderful to me. I often get cards and small gifts. The problem is that I don’t go to work to socialize, and I’m finding increasing tension as the other members of the staff struggle to understand this. While I am friendly with everyone, I have no interest in making my place of work a social outlet. Please help.

Don’t Want to Socialize

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Don’t Want to Socialize,

While everyone has a job to do at work and that is a priority, taking time to build professional relationships with other members of the team also is important. Because of 12-hour shifts and the fast-paced, high-pressure environment most nurses work in these days, socializing is not often possible during regular work activities.

As in any relationship, it is important to spend some fun, recreational time with those we work with. This helps to build a foundation that strengthens the team and bonds people. It also helps reduce stress. Contrary to the old adage, familiarity breeds respect.

This doesn’t mean you have to go out every week with co-workers, but being resistant to all socialization can give the impression you don’t like the others, think you’re better than them, and so on, regardless of how you really feel. So even if you are not comfortable socializing, you have to make an effort.

You are part of a team and as such cannot stay isolated. Being friendly during work hours isn’t enough. People want to know you a little better, and it will be to your benefit in the long run to reciprocate.

In an article I wrote titled “Your First Year as a Nurse” I included a relevant tip: Be sociable. Take part in social functions at work. If everyone is going for pizza after work, join them when you can. If the crew brings in food on your shift, be sure to occasionally bring something yourself, whether you partake or not. If the department is throwing a shower for a co-worker, make an effort to contribute in some way. Attend awards ceremonies, company picnics and holiday parties. This participation shows you are a team player who supports your co-workers. It also shows you are making an effort to get to know people, become integrated with the group and are working to build relationships.

Although you don’t have to like everyone you work with, you do have to get along with them. Deliberate efforts to build relationships will make for a better situation for yourself and reap benefits you never imagined. It also will make you feel more a part of the group and gain acceptance.

Best wishes,

By | 2013-02-26T00:00:00-05:00 February 26th, 2013|Categories: Blogs, Nursing careers and jobs|20 Comments

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  1. Avatar
    Phil Fine February 22, 2019 at 9:22 am - Reply

    I disagree with Donna’s advice hat socializing with coworkers is essential for one’s career.

    Perhaps I’m old-fashioned or a unreconstructed naif, but any employee who doesn’t wish to socialize with his co-workers shouldn’t be penalized. Nor should she be ostracized, or passed over for promotion.

    The workplace is a place for, well, work. A person should strive to give his employer good value, to cooperate and to be respectful to others. But she shouldn’t feel obligated to attend potluck suppers, after-work happy hours, or gossip-filled lunch breaks. This is especially true for mothers who may have families to attend to, or for introverts who may prefer to spend their lunch hour reading a book, rather than making mindless chit-chat at a nearby food court. The reason why the workplace has morphed into a surrogate social centre is because so many workers today are single, have minimal familial responsibilities, or have no home life whatsoever. And that’s tragic.

    Employees may wish to want to know a new hire better. But if that person chooses not to reciprocate, that’s his prerogative.

    Consider this advice from on ways of avoiding socializing at work:
    7 Ways to Avoid Being Friends with Coworkers
    by Staff – April 19, 2018
    What to Do When You’re There to Work, Not Make Friends
    It’s All About Boundaries
    It might be tempting to hang out at the water cooler half the morning and indulge in the latest gossip, the fun anticipation of the office lottery pool, or friendly sports bets. But these easy friendships with coworkers can begin to spill over into your personal life, and that’s when things get dicey.

    Setting boundaries is a good idea, but where do you begin? Can you set boundaries without hurting someone’s feelings? Can you keep your work relationships healthy even while you decline invitations that infringe on your personal time?

    It’s possible, and it’s probably easier than you think. These hard-and-fast rules can help you set boundaries that will keep you sane — and keep your job secure.

    7. Structure Your Time
    The busier you are at work, the more likely you will be to focus on what you should be doing.

    Plan out an hourly schedule that keeps your projects on track and forces you to avoid procrastination. This will naturally lead to less time milling about with coworkers and fewer bits of juicy gossip to ponder. Stay focused.

    6. Say No & Stay Firm
    When someone asks you why you aren’t hanging out with them after work, stick to your guns.

    Simply tell them your time away from work is reserved for family and friends. If they try to make you feel guilty, stand your ground. They might be snippy for a while, but ultimately they have no choice but to respect your decisions.

    If they don’t and it becomes an issue that starts to affect your work environment and productivity, it might be something to take up with human resources.

    5. Don’t Mix Work & Play
    The invitation to that hot new restaurant on a Saturday night or the happy hour drink party can be tempting, but it may be best to decline if you’re trying to keep it professional.

    These after-hours soirees can very quickly blur the lines between the personal and professional. Keep your work life separate by attending only the company-sanctioned (and expected) events, such as the annual Christmas party or awards dinner. While you don’t want to be branded as antisocial, do your best to explain to coworkers that you value your family and/or other outside commitments.

    4. Set Strict Time Limits
    When you leave the office, you’re done with work.

    Don’t answer any work-related calls. Don’t take work home with you. If you absolutely must do these things, choose an hour or two when you will respond to emails or finish up a bit of work, then set a timer to remind you when this additional work time is over.

    Imposing these time limits will train you to keep work where it belongs, and that will help you keep the coworkers where they belong — at the office, not in your downtime.

    3. Don’t Gossip (or at least do it wisely)
    Remember, anyone who gossips with you will also be gossiping about you, so don’t give them any fodder for their fun.

    Choose how far you will go. Perhaps it’s okay to talk about your daughter’s college acceptance, but not okay to talk about health issues. When you do talk about other people — as you inevitably will — keep it entirely positive, and never pry. You work too hard to have it all undone insinuations of having loose lips.

    2. Minimize Trips to the Water Cooler
    Those long discussions around the water cooler can lead to confiding in your coworkers, and that can lead to a more serious friendship than might be prudent for the office.

    We’re not advising turning off all human emotion and failing to form connections at the office, so don’t avoid the office favorite chat spot completely. But if you’re looking to develop coworker relationships instead of friendships, limit your time chatting and always discuss lighter things like the weather or the latest music. If someone wants to get personal, that’s your cue to excuse yourself from the discussion.

    1. Stay Off Facebook
    It is one of the most delightful time-wasters to ever hit the office, but Facebook can also throw your work-life balance into a tailspin.

    If you already have enough friends, then avoid friending your coworkers on your personal Facebook account. If you really do want to keep up with them, or if they try to friend you, you can create a separate page or group for your work friends only. In these days of social media it’s all too easy to get sucked in by office drama during the day, and Facebook drama after hours.

    Personal or Professional: It’s Up to You
    While some people thrive on office friendships, they aren’t for everyone. If you’re part of the group that likes keeping home and office life separate, put these boundaries in place, and stay strong.

    Many coworkers mean well when they try to pull you into the latest gossip or ask probing questions about your life, and letting them in can be tempting. But by starting now with firm boundaries, you can set the proper tone and never have to deal with the question of work friends mingling too closely with your personal time.

    Salary Negotiation is Personal AND Professional
    You may not want to fraternize with your coworkers, but when you’re dealing with a job interview or performance review, it’s vital to talk salary with your boss. And can help.

    The first thing you should do is research, so you’re able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what’s a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

    Good luck.

    • Avatar
      Moran June 28, 2020 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      I don’t think anyone’s arguing that those who do not wish to socialize should be specifically penalized or passed over for promotion. That is also not the same as suggesting that socialization is necessary for workplace success either, though. I personally agree with the sentiment of work being a place for work, but the modern work environment is more dependent on communication than ever. Socialization is not strictly a leisurely activity. Socialization is also the way in which optimum communication modes and preferences are fleshed out. It also serves other potentially important functions, such as helping cope with the stresses of the work. Naturally it is not appropriate to socialize all the time, but it is equally inappropriate to suggest that socialization should almost never occur simply because that is someone else’s preference. Someone who does not socialize at all provides their colleagues with no opportunity to understand how to most effectively cooperate with them. And whether we like it or not, that makes those people more expendable since their value is almost exclusively tied into their productivity rather than more intangible effects like team morale.

  2. Avatar
    David March 4, 2019 at 5:01 am - Reply

    Phil’s advice is spot on, but unfortunately in some work places it just doesn’t work. A few years ago, I worked at a place where socializing was more important then getting the job done. I’m an Accountant mind you and the department has changed at a lot of organizations. The whole purpose of me getting into accounting was to avoid people and work place politics. It’s so crazy that companies would rather have crappy work ethic and have disarray for the sake of socialization.

    In today’s accounting department, the socialization has morphed into it. I did all of Phil’s points, but was met with tension. I finally ended up telling the people that I can not help it if you do not have a life outside of work or don’t get attention at home. Needless to say that didn’t go over well, I ended up just walking out. At this point I’m only interested in work from home jobs to avoid all the BS in the work place.

    • Avatar
      Rebecca Mathis April 19, 2019 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      David…..Yes yes yes!! I’m an accountant as well. Do we work at the same place? Sounds exactly like my workplace. It reminds me of high school or a cult. It is so weird to me. Stay strong….I have a right to be the introvert that I am ?

    • Avatar
      Ellie May 21, 2020 at 7:51 am - Reply

      Wow you sound like a lovely person… If you don’t want to socialise at work then don’t but there’s no need to be rude to your colleagues, that’s not keeping a professional relationship at all. Making nasty comments about your colleagues social lives is far more personal than just going for a drink with them, you’re the problem here. I bet that place threw a party the day you walked out.

  3. Avatar
    Pam May 3, 2019 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    I too agree with Phil 100%….I am an RN in an outpatient clinic and I’m stuck in an office with the medical assistant who says whatever comes into her head all day long….The physician who is right across the hall is the same…constantly talking, and yet she complains about never getting her work done!!…I think it’s a women thing…I am an introverted female who would much rather work with men any day of the week…not to generalize too much, lol, but their more focused and task oriented….These women talk and talk and talk about stupid stuff…It’s such a drain on me… I hate it, can you tell, lol….The culture creates this environment…I really don’t know how I’m going to handle this much longer. It’s bad when you WANT TO WORK, but can’t because of noise and wasted time by coworkers.?

  4. Avatar
    r July 25, 2019 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I also agree with Phil. All of what I am about to say is off the cuff and completely anecdotal. I am not a psychologist and haven’t done any research or studies extensively.

    I am an executive and have very good relationships with people at work. But when I go to work, I want to get my work done. If I am not working, I don’t want to be at the office. I spend enough time there. I have a 8 year old I don’t spend enough time with and friends that aren’t at my office I would like to see more.

    I notice a rise in meetings in corporate culture and suspect it has a lot to do with people that want to socialize more than push the needle and get work done. People go from one meeting to another, socializing, sprinkling in what they want to get done, which is usually the same thing as the previous 8 meetings. In reality the criteria for making a decision can happen in a fraction of the time. It isn’t to say they don’t work at all. I know incredibly smart and talented people that put a premium on social interaction over work, some of which are fellow executives. They just end up putting in 70 hours because they get both their social needs and work done at the office.

    I think it is the belief that being part of a culture, popularity for lack of a better word, actually relates to more productive outcomes. There have been studies, but very little details about how the studies were conducted, so I am skeptical. I am sure it improves retention for those who go to work to get their social needs met. But reduces it for those that don’t want work to fulfill their social and cultural needs. I am shocked to think an office could do that. You can’t paint a painting, look at birds through binoculars, play with your cats if that is what you like to do, go kayaking, or as someone mentioned just read a book. I can’t imagine getting fulfilled by spending more time at an office, which usually is the same environment every day and not as diverse as we try so hard to make it. Because you will never create a culture in one physical location, with the same people, that pleases everyone unless you changed everything about it every single day. But now is that the focus of the business?

    Being part of a group or culture is a powerful motivator since grade school and while clearly human, and not entirely negative, it does become a source of very stressful social outcomes. People have trouble confronting it. Questioning for some threatens that connection they have to survival. Since children, we live by the paradigm “either you are in the group or out of the group”. Frenetic socializing is like putting more food on your plate than you are going to eat just to make sure you don’t get caught starving.

    I believe it effects efficiency and productivity more then we are willing to admit. I also think it is contributing to 40 plus hour work weeks. Because we aren’t compartmentalizing our work. If we are socializing half the time at the office, there is a responding amount of time the work isn’t happening. So I think the studies should be looked at more closely.

    Finally, (this is speculative), if we had studies, we might be able to solve our lengthy work weeks and improve our work life balance by legitimately looking at this. If we spent less time socializing and talking about what we want to do, and more time just doing it. We would get more work done in shorter periods of time. Then we could consider moving to 3 or 4 day work weeks, working hard and then if people want to go have fun, great, go to the beach or park. I might be more willing to actually do that with others. This is not about being unfriendly. And it doesn’t = anti-social. I love greeting my coworkers to start the day and enjoy what they did over the weekend or what they might do, but only if they feel like talking about it. But i want to get my work done and leave the office. So for me it is about focusing on work at work so that I can fulfill my social needs in an individual, independent , more fulfilling environment of my choice.

    In the end, if people choose to put a premium on social needs at work, more power to them if their boss is happy with their productivity. But by all means, this shouldn’t be considered “The Best Way” and certainly doesn’t mean you are a better coworker or employee, or leader.

  5. Avatar
    Marcia July 26, 2019 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Here’s a question: has a millenial answered this thread? I am not a millenial and was taught that you work at work. When work is “done” you’re supposed to spend time with your patients. Listen to their stories, do education on disease, meds, and find out what they may need/want that isn’t listed on their medical record. 😉
    I wonder if the newer generations feel a desire to be part of a group in more of a social aspect rather than an identity? Meaning that “we are nurses” connected past generations all across the world even if we didn’t know our coworker’s kids names. Newer generations crave individualism and identification of them personally. Maybe “I am a nurse” is more the social need to connect?
    Looking forward to a reply.

  6. Avatar
    Phillip Fine September 16, 2019 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Thank you, everyone, who responded to my posting! I really didn’t expect so many people would agree with me. After all, the current corporate ethic is all about fitting in and being part of the group, isn’t it? And someone who regularly passes up invitations for after-hours drinking, or noon-hour lunches, is likely to appear as the odd man out, right?

    Years ago, I was having trouble at one job because I felt pressured to join my coworkers for drinks, or go to a karaoke bar. When I mentioned this to a counsellor, he didn’t say I had to attend every outing. But he did suggest that to keep on the good side of my colleagues, I should go to one or two such events a month.

    I didn’t say anything, but I seethed inside. I was angry I was expected to give up my valuable time just so I wouldn’t appear to be a stick in the mud. Moreover, when I was at another job, the same counsellor roasted me for not joining my coworkers for lunch.

    “They’ll all be asking where you are!” he taunted, falling back on the time-tested strategy of peer group pressure.

    You might ask what could be wrong with going to a few such events, or tying to fake it until you make it. Well, you could go, but eventually someone would likely out you for simply going through the motions.

    “You don’t look as if you’re having a good time!” that person might say, leaving you with the feeling that didn’t put enough energy into being sociable, or that you’re now going to be known as the office party pooper.

  7. Avatar
    Devon October 9, 2019 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    I also disagree with Donna. You come to work to perform a job and earn a paycheck, period. You can absolutely keep your social life separate. No, you do not need to have anything other than a professional relationship with those you work with. If others are bothered by your not participating in social activities, they’ll just have to get over it.

  8. Avatar
    Jose October 22, 2019 at 6:14 am - Reply

    I also disagree with Donna and agree with Phil. However, let’s remember that neither are completely wrong. It turns out that in any big population about of 2/3 of people are more extrovert than introvert. This means, statistically that it is normal to be more extrovert than introvert. However, normal is often treated as good, and non-normal is treated as bad. That’s just bad education. Introverts are a huge part of humankind, not for nothing. People should realise that it is important to give others the space that they need and to not prejudge. Extroverts should not push introverts to socialise and introverts should understand that extroverts need more attention than them. It is a two-way deal to achieve harmony.

  9. Avatar
    T October 22, 2019 at 11:40 am - Reply

    I feel pressured almost every month working for the government. Retirements, death, weddings etc.. I try to participate depending on the co worker and our relationship or how devastating the situation was. Unfortunately, today when I refused to participate in a co worker who secretly got married, my manager pretended to have meeting for his celebration. I was so embarrassed, I did not give money, was forced to toast, employees were forcing cake on me. I kept declining, but now I am trying to figure out ways to avoid this happening again

  10. Avatar
    Janis Jivin October 23, 2019 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    You’re part of a team. Is it so difficult to toast someone congratulations or say sorry for your loss. Money contributions aren’t mandatory. Just being there, even for ten minutes, is a gift.

  11. Avatar
    Jaime October 31, 2019 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Be leery of any ‘advice’ that tells you to change yourself to accommodate other people. Just be who you are. It’s what comes most naturally.

    If you’re a true introvert like myself, being around people 8 hours per day, 5 days per week at work is more than enough extroversion. You crave your solitude and autonomy at the end of the day. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t force yourself to do anything just to keep others happy. You do you.

  12. Avatar
    Deano December 6, 2019 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Nearly 60 and a happy loner, I have always struggled with socialising in almost any setting yet I actually ‘get along’ with just about everyone fine at work. Socialising wouldn’t be a problem if people knew how to just let others be, but there’s always the pushy type who wants to make you have one more drink, get up and dance etc. This causes me to resent the workplace that allows this to happen – hardly effective team building.

    By the way, it’s great to see so many other here are speaking up against forced, unnecessary socialising as it often seems to be accepted wisdom.

  13. Avatar
    safety and security March 28, 2020 at 4:44 am - Reply

    Dead written subject material, Really enjoyed reading.

  14. Avatar
    Moran June 28, 2020 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I also think some of you are misunderstanding the main issue here. Socialization is not strictly about doing things with colleagues after work, though it *can* be. I’m not sure why so many people are mentioning that though, since this wasn’t actually mentioned in the initial letter. Nobody is asking you to hang out with your coworkers like you don’t have anything else going on in your life. At the same time, having the attitude that other people you work with are losers who have nothing going on in their own lives is probably not exactly constructive to your interactions with them while at work either, is it?

    Some of you seem like you might also hate your jobs, and this may be a larger motivator of avoiding socialization – because you’re already ready to leave your job before you ever even get there, and you think socialization requires you to commit more to this job you do not like. If that’s the case, maybe consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. Just saying that you were raised to believe that work is for working makes you sound like a tool, and emphasizing that this doesn’t matter because you get things done only makes it sound more so. Racist people were raised to believe racist things, too – but that doesn’t exactly justify the resultant behaviors, does it?

  15. Avatar
    Aji July 15, 2020 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Whoa Moran. I think you are way off base there. I’ve read through the posts and the initial letter. Where do you get the idea that people who prefer to keep to themselves think their coworkers are losers?? Really, that is laughable. You are reading way too much into this forum. Many people prefer to just keep to themselves at work. It doesn’t mean they hate their job or hate others. That’s just their personality. Seriously, chill out.

  16. Avatar
    Phil Fine August 14, 2020 at 6:49 am - Reply

    What really sticks in my craw is Donna’s insistence that when you’re on the job, being friendly isn’t enough. Why? What more could an employer ask for than someone who’s punctual, conscientious, courteous, hard-working, respectful and friendly? This should be enough for any boss. If co-workers feel miffed that you’re avoiding them because you aren’t socializing with them, tell them to get a life — in a sociable way, of course!

    I don’t drink; in fact, I’ve never felt the need to do so, perhaps because I grew up in a family of non-drinkers. So I’ve never eagerly anticipated joining my co-workers at a bar. I know that if I do, I’ll invariably get quizzical stares when I order a Coke or a Perrier, rather than a beer, or a cocktail. And I’ll have to sit there and suck it up and wonder if because I haven’t imbibed, I’ve automatically been labelled a square. I also know that after, say, 20 minutes of mindless, harmless chit-chat, I’ll have to get up and graciously excuse myself because I have other obligations. Although I’ve got the routine down pat, I don’t dislike it any less for having done so.

  17. Avatar
    Christopher Ramas September 21, 2020 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Glad to see some of my kind around here. So it really pains me to do the following:

    I’m here to disagree with all of you who are against Donna’s points. For the most part, she’s practically right.

    You DO need to socialize.
    YES, YOU DO.

    But I also came here to recognize how those points make you all FEEL.

    I work as an EMT. At the station, i’m surrounded by egotistical maniacs who would love nothing but to create drama and get a reaction out of someone. It’s painful to witness, get caught up in, and it Sucks.

    I’ve also worked for several departments, each of them with practically the same culture (so leaving is out) And of course, it goes without saying that working from home is more or less impossible for me.

    Oh, did I mention that I have a combination of ADHD and severe clinical Anxiety? And from my youngest years struggled with social awkwardness and anxiety to this day? Yeah, Fun.

    I went to therapy for ideas on how to conversate, got a neuropsych evaluation, underwent neurofeedback (and I’m still in it, the benefits can’t be ignored), tried A LOT of different meds until I found the right combo that seems to work for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still occasionally run into mental blindspots that need some TLC.

    After about 11 or so years of clawing my way to some sense of sanity, I have a better sense of subtle concepts like context, sarcasm, and ballbusting (my EMT partners taught me that one).

    Being the one who usually gave the advice to patients, it was ironic that I never took it myself. Until I realized:

    I love this job.

    I love being in the position to assist others in very tough circumstances. I love trying my best to give someone who didn’t plan on being a patient a new start and a new perspective through kindness and reassurance.

    And if that means finding a way to get along with these idiots, fine. As you have read, it wasn’t easy.

    As boisterous and crazy as my EMT partners are, they did teach me something simply by being them: We need to be kind and reassuring to ourselves JUST AS MUCH IF NOT MORE SO than our patients. And I can’t help them unless I help myself.

    So I did. And I’m a lot better for it.

    Sooooo what’s the point of all this after hearing this sob story I hear you ask?

    If I can do it, so can ALL OF YOU my fellow introverts.You’re all stronger than you think you are.

    And if you all take a minute to reflect on WHY you are in you’re in your job in the first place, and really like the answer you came up with, you’ll find a way to Make It Work….no matter how ridiculous and socially needy your coworkers are.
    -My condolences-

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