Chronic Communication at Work: Resisting the Pressure to Socialize

Some workplaces are friendlier than others, that’s for sure. And the friendlier ones can feel a little too friendly if you’re balancing the demands of work with the demands, and the limitations, of your chronic conditions.


If you work in a company that is all about networking to get ahead, for example, you may need to spend time socializing during or after work. If you need a little extra time to get your work done during the day, if you have diet restrictions, or if you are tired out at the end of the day, taking time to socialize can be difficult if not impossible to manage.


Events held after work may not only be challenging physically, but in other ways as well. The food being served may not be on your diet. The pressure to drink alcohol can present a whole new set of concerns.


Socializing can include being asked personal questions that are not generally part of standard workday conversations, and the pressure to self-disclose can be uncomfortable.


And don’t forget that your medical expenses, like copayments, can be taking a chunk out of your paycheck, and socializing can be expensive.


But the invitations keep coming. What do you do?


Choose carefully. If you feel it’s important to your relationship with other employees, or your career development, to participate in social activities, then choose the events that are most comfortable for you.   For example, a lunch but not a happy hour. Or an evening dinner but not a bowling league. Give yourself the option to choose!


Plan ahead. A social event doesn’t have to place your health at risk. For example, suggest a restaurant that serves food that’s on your diet and within your budget. If it’s hard to go to a one-hour lunch and still get your work done, you might come prepared to stay a little later that day, or start earlier. Advance planning can increase your comfort level with social events.


Put in an appearance.   One of the goals of work events is to be part of the team. So you might consider coming to event earlier in the evening, making the rounds to say hello to co-workers, and the boss, and then leaving. If necessary, you can apologize for having a responsibility that you need to attend to. That’s not an untruth. You have responsibility for taking good care of yourself, right?


Honor your limits. Socializing with fellow employees doesn’t mean you have to participate at the same level as they are. You can smile and say no to any food or drink that gets passed in your direction that you don’t want to partake of. You can volunteer to be the scorekeeper at the annual softball game. And when you’re tired out, it’s okay to announce that it’s been a long day and you want to head home.


Keep it professional. One of the biggest mistakes that occurs all too often at workplace social events is inappropriate comments or behavior, including saying things that shouldn’t have been said. The relaxed atmosphere can have the effect of leading people to forget that, while this is a social venue, it is still an extension of the workplace. Unfortunately, the presence of alcoholic beverages can encourage behavior that may be regretted the next workday. Set an example by keeping it friendly, disclose as much or as little about yourself as you were having a conversation in the break room. Including what you want to disclose your chronic condition. Also keep this in mind if you have the urge to vent.


Refuse gently but firmly.   One of the complaints I hear the most from my clients about workplace socializing is the pressure to say yes. Again, give yourself the option to choose which social events you want – and don’t want – to participate in. And when you don’t want to participate, politely say thanks for the opportunity but that you won’t be able to make it.


Suggest an alternative.   As opportunities to socialize casually, like lunch or getting together after work, come up, you might want to follow your polite refusal with a proposal for an alternative. Maybe coffee after work instead of lunch, or vice versa? Or an activity you can participate in.


Socializing with your co-workers. You can show that you are part of the team at work without placing your wellness at risk. Reserve the right to say yes or no. Either way, reserve the right to keep your self-care front and center.