ask the readers: my office is keeping me painfully isolated at work

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

A year ago, I jumped at the opportunity to take a promotion and move to a new business unit in my organization. It was a fantastic move for me: I’m happier all around, I’m doing more engaging work, and am by far the youngest manager in the new unit. As part of the promotion, I was moved to a new office located on a different campus in a different area of our city. It feels trivial to complain about, but ever since the move I find myself feeling extremely isolated throughout the day, often going the full workday without having more than the briefest social interaction.

My new office is a converted closet which opens to a public space (think a cafeteria or computer lab), and for many reasons I can’t socialize with the people who use this space. The only other employee who works on this floor of the building is my sole direct report. The other rooms on this floor are public spaces, conference rooms, or classrooms. Traditionally I’ve found that managers tend to socialize with other managers, but at this organization I am junior to my peer managers by 15-20 years. We have very little in common, and little desire to socialize, but the younger employees don’t want to socialize with me either (it’s mutual), since they see me as management. I see my boss less than three times per week; she oversees my department at a high level but doesn’t do work related to ours and sits in a different building. Our relationship is great but strictly professional.

In a year here, I’ve gone out to lunch with my boss once, and my employee one other time. She is occasionally able to socialize with some other non-management people here, but at times has expressed similar feelings of isolation. We get on well, but working 1:1 with my report leads to keeping things mostly professional. My role involves some built in and allowed downtime, but there’s only so many hours I can spend watching training videos or reading AAM archives with my door closed. Due to our physical isolation, we are never included in impromptu water cooler talks or random stop-by chats, or are even aware of group lunches to tag along with.

I’m at a loss for what to do. The long, isolating days are beginning to get to me – and I’m an only child! I’ve asked my director about moving spaces, but there are currently no open spaces on campus, and for various reasons it does make business sense to keep my office in its current location. I’m not looking for a new social group, or expecting work to fill all of my social needs, but I find myself lonely and wanting to talk to strangers at the coffee shop just for some non-work, non-screen interaction. I’ve given it almost a year as I know it can take time to make friends and break into existing workplace social groups, but I don’t think that’s the issue here. There simply are no opportunities for me to socialize.

Am I doomed to rot in this converted closet forever? Am I expecting too much of my job, or do I have unrealistic expectations about socializing in the workplace?

Readers, what advice do you have?

{ 197 comments… read them below }

  1. Megan

    I think you’re being really weirdly overly concerned about hierarchy and age. Just talk to people like they’re people. My favorite coworker is in his 50’s. I have water cooler chats every day with our CFO and I’m an analyst. Let go of your own hangups & you’ll find it easier to connect with people. Obviously you have to keep things professional, but even if a coworker is my age & at my same level, I wouldn’t talk to them about getting blackout drunk on the weekend, so I don’t see how it’s any different based on someone’s age or role in your company.

    Also, if you’re in a management role and make an effort w/non-management folks your own age, you may find that many of them appreciate having someone they feel comfortable with in your role to come to for advice and informal mentorship, which would be another way to connect with people further. But, you might have to make the effort with these people as they are probably trying to not cross boundaries with you either.

    1. some1

      This is true, but the problem is that if her report doesn’t feel like chit-chatting or going to lunch with the LW, it’s hard to tell your boss that because the power dynamic.

    2. Lily Rowan

      I don’t know about “weirdly overly concerned” — there’s a difference between water cooler talk and seeking out someone to be your friend, and the LW has to do the latter because of her office location, right? So sure, I’ll chit-chat with whoever crosses my path, but if I’m looking to invite someone to lunch it probably won’t be my boss or my direct reports.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe

        Exactly. And it takes two to converse. So, if older peers or direct reports give off an uncomfortable “not interested in chatting” vibe, there’s only so much OP can do to force a conversation.

        1. Koko

          OP described a situation where most of the people around her are non-management staff who are her age peers but do not report to her. (She only has one direct report.) Megan’s comment was suggesting that she should be able to reasonably socialize with the non-management staff who don’t report to her.

          1. Lily Rowan

            I didn’t think there were any other colleagues physically around her, so my bad if I got that wrong.

            1. Koko

              Ah, rereading I think you’re right. I interpreted the “younger employees aren’t interested in socializing (it’s mutual)” and the mention that her direct report is sometimes able to socialize with them to mean that the people were there and just didn’t seem like suitable options for socializing. But I think it may be that they’re unsuitable to her in addition to being far away.

      2. Jaguar

        But that’s not what the LW has written. LW is looking for something more than the “briefest social interaction,” which to me reads like just chit-chat would be an improvement. But the LW then goes on to say that they have “little desire to socialize” with other managers (and it’s loosely implied that it’s based on age difference and doesn’t supply any other reason) and that the other employees “don’t want to socialize” for which the feeling is “mutual.” So it sounds like the LW has eliminated everyone around them for socializing, and the only supplied reason is age difference and adherence to management formality.

        So I would echo Megan’s suggestion: drop those notions and just talk to people. Age is a really lousy reason to keep yourself at a distance from people (I’m friends with people at work much younger and much older than me) and management can make people uncomfortable friending upwards, but you (really) shouldn’t let it prevent you from being friendly and social with people downwards.

        Just talk to people, LW.

        1. Liane

          I agree with Megan & Jaguar: Just start talking to people regardless of age. My husband & I figured out years ago that most of our friends were people either 10 years older than us, or at least 10-15 years younger. And this can apply just as well to work friends–which it reads to me like you are looking for–as social friends.

  2. Meagan

    What about an empty desk on main campus? You could ask if it’s possible to float there about once a week, to be more connected and in tune with what’s happening with the company, without having a designated office there.

    1. OP

      Unfortunately the main campus is located in another part of the city, and my work is specific and local to this branch. I realize that I didn’t specify, but this is a University, and I work for one of its sub-schools. We have little to do with Central Administration on a day to day basis.

        1. OP

          We’ve asked. There is no space in the school (true, I work closely with facilities), and as I am in charge of IT, it makes business sense to keep us attached to the computer lab for now.

          The space problem is so bad that they took away my storage area, but that’s another issue!

          1. cleo

            Hah. As soon as I read that you were in a converted closet, I guessed that you were in IT at a college.

            IT and marketing/design seem to be put in the weirdest, out of the way spaces in higher ed. I interviewed for several web design/devel jobs in higher ed and I was struck by the unusual work spaces (to put it politely).

      1. Meg Murry

        How far away is the main campus? Could you go back there once or twice a week to get lunch with your former co-workers? Even though you are “management” now, since its different business units it’s fine for you to socialize with your former peers and manager.

        Does your campus have a dining hall? Can you go look for someone that seems moderately friendly and somewhat familiar and ask if you can join them for lunch? Or maybe there is a noontime yoga class or walking group, etc, you could join?

        Alternately, if you have an office with a door and 15 minute breaks are allowed in your downtime, you could take that time to call retired relatives, etc, just so you can talk to another human. My grandma loves to hear from us in the middle of the day. For a while I had a standing 15 minute phone call once a week with a friend across the country on her lunch break (so 3 pm my time, noon hers).

        Since its a university, are you allowed to take or audit classes for free or cheap? Could you flex your time to allow you to take one class a semester in a subject that’s very discussion based?

        1. OP

          >How far away is the main campus? Could you go back there once or twice a week to get lunch with your former co-workers? Even though you are “management” now, since its different business units it’s fine for you to socialize with your former peers and manager.

          A 30-45 minute bus ride away using the University shuttle, or about an hour on transit. They are technically in a different city across a river.

          1. Anonamoose

            This sounds like my University. I wonder if I could walk across the street and wave at you.

            I too understood your dilemma. I am on a different campus stuck in a bullpen despite our entire team loathing our constantly talking/laughing units around us. We do high analytic and design work which would be better served in a quiet area. All of our clients are in different buildings, but they’re all super focused clinicians, so chatting isn’t going to happen. I also don’t have anyone I really connect with and all of my friends are on the other campus, across the causeway from old jobs. Just wanted to say I feel your pain. Oh! I also used to manage our computer labs on campus. Seriously, do we work at the same school?? lol

              1. kw

                Hmm, I suspect you’re at my undergrad alma mater! If so – and if you’re at the campus I think you are – there might be other universities nearby.

                Maybe you could check out some young professionals groups and make lunchworthy friends/colleagues in the area, or even hunt down prospective buddies in similar positions at nearby colleges on LinkedIn? (You could send a message, “Hey I just started at [CAMPUS] doing [IT THING], and it looks like you do something similar! Do you want to meet for lunch on [DATE] to discuss ways you approached [COMMON PROBLEM]?”)

              2. Apple

                I think I know which school you are talking about! :) Without getting super specific, have you looked into some of the staff groups and committees (“Community Connections”) around campus? Check our HR website – there is a Toastmasters listed for across the river. Also, sometimes when I want to explore the rest of this, um, vast campus, I ask my boss if I can check out some of the talks given by faculty that are available only for staff to attend during the day. Some of it is over my head, but it can be really interesting! I just went to one yesterday, and everyone mingles around the snack table and chats before they start! Another thing is possibly taking a course thru the CWD, which is open to everyone.

                1. GovHRO

                  If there isn’t a group you’d like to join, what about creating one? Such as a first line supervisor group or some such.

  3. Sarah Thomas

    No, I don’t think you’re doomed to rot in a closet. But I do think there are a couple of things you could be doing.

    You’re a manager now, so you have some say in things like team-building initiatives and professional development. Why not set up some lunch-and-learn sessions? You and others from the main campus or others in the building could bring brown bags and teach each other skills.

    Additionally, you can pursue your own professional development by attending seminars and webinars, which might be in front of a screen but will at least involve dynamic socialization.

    If your organization is big enough that it has a cafeteria, it probably also has some cross-departmental initiatives or task forces, like planning annual events and such. You can join one of those.

    Lastly, if you’ve got time to watch videos during the day, maybe you could convince your higher-ups that you have enough bandwidth to take on a leadership role in a professional organization or Rotary or a civic group.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe

      If your organization is big enough that it has a cafeteria, it probably also has some cross-departmental initiatives or task forces, like planning annual events and such. You can join one of those.

      This is what I was coming to suggest. Most large organizations have volunteer groups or women’s groups, or other cross-organizational groups that aren’t business-specific and aren’t role-specific. I recommend joining one of these groups to get to know other people outside your business unit. These people may be your key to weekly lunches or cross-campus get togethers and would reduce your feelings of isolation.

    2. vanBOOM

      These are excellent suggestions. I’m basically an office of one, and doing all of these things Sarah has suggested helps immensely.

    3. OP

      I should have been more specific, I wasn’t sure how direct I could get in my letter! It’s a computer lab, not a cafeteria. We are a grad school, and the people in the lab are almost entirely students.

      We have no connection with the main campus except at the highest levels, our students never step foot there, and there is complete separation between us and the main campus.

      >If your organization is big enough that it has a cafeteria, it probably also has some cross-departmental initiatives or task forces, like planning annual events and such. You can join one of those.

      The University is gigantic, our school is quite small in comparison. We don’t have anything like that, most departments here are no larger than 4-5 people.

      1. Catabodua

        If your University is gigantic I am positive there are task forces or groups who are looking for people to join. I also work at a gigantic University and there are affinity groups to join like women in management, a veteran’s network, any type of – american group you can think of i.e. Asain-American, or community of practice groups (which usually meet during lunch).

        There are also probably a ton of cultural things to get involved in. I could go to museum lectures, music performances, etc. throughout the day.

        Obviously, you need to balance this all with work. So, pick one thing a month and go do it. I think simply going to something will make a huge difference.

        1. OP

          The central university is located in another part of the city. We are a small graduate school offshoot without any of those organizations.

          1. Sophia in the DMV (DC-MD-VA, not Dept of Motor Vehicles)

            Even with the small offshoot, there still should be some type of social organizations. Have you looked up the graduate school’s website? Another option is to do as the previous poster suggested re: organizing professional development, with events being held at both locations. You might also reach out to people in other departments. Yours is not the only department in the branch campus.

          2. Catabodua

            I understand what you are saying – but I’m saying stop limiting yourself to things just offered within your graduate school

            1. OP

              We are in a remote location from the main campus. The only two schools out here are the medical schools.

              1. Not a Real Giraffe

                But, I think what we’re all trying to get at is that you should try to travel to the main campus on occasion to take part in some of the University-wide initiatives and task forces. Surely as a graduate school within Big University, you would be eligible to join the university-wide “women in academia” (or whatever) groups? Call it “professional development” and trek out (if feasible) to the main campus to attend meetings once a month or whatever. You may not have daily interactions to counteract the isolation, but you’d have these occasion meetings to look forward to, and meet people who may be able to connect you with less-isolating opportunities in the future.

                1. OP

                  I am a part of these, however a trip to the main campus is a half day activity. It would be irresponsible to do that more than once, maybe twice per month. It’s 60-90 minutes round trip just in travel, and that’s if I happen to catch the shuttle on time. If I miss one, it can jump to 80-120 minutes round trip. That’s a lot of out of office time for something that lends no benefit to my school.

                  I am currently part of a University wide initiative to create better IT training materials, and have leveraged my connections at other parts of the school to build some relationships, and also jump at the opportunity for me or my employee to train in the main campus. But being such a small team one of us being gone directly impacts the other.

                2. Kira

                  OP, you keep saying that it takes a lot of time to go over to the main campus and come back, but why not spend a whole day there?

  4. SystemsLady

    Would it make any sense for your role at all for there to be one or more half days a week spent on the main campus? I know your boss said there was no room, but perhaps there’s enough temporary work space to cover half days, or there are meetings you’re doing over the phone that could be done on the main campus.

    It sounds like you aren’t the only one affected and the office you’re in is basically just an overflow office. It would be to the benefit of your higher management to put more thought into who goes where, such that they maximize each person’s ability to interact with peers, but I can’t offer specific advice there.

    1. OP

      My work is unfortunately local to our smaller campus. I work for a graduate school in a very large University system. We are involved in medical education, all of which takes place on this campus, none of it back at Central.

      1. Snuck

        Ok, but there are others there, maybe not on your floor, but it is a school, so there are admin staff, lab staff, teaching staff…. Start mixing with some, either find other unconnected teams or chummy up to some of the larger ones, swing past and make small talk if you get the chance (within professional norms), make the effort to find two or three people who either have a show/hobby/something in common, or a professional synergy that you can work together on. People where you can then extend it to more relaxed communication… Work on a few support projects, volunteer to be a fire warden, have lunch wherever everyone else does (or ask for recommendations and find out the good local areas), have some mini quizzes and fun around software rollout a that gets people stopping by to say hi… If you aren’t going to go to the bigger campus then you need to reach out and make this one home. In small communities there isn’t a lot of room to be choosy about who you hang with, so drop the pay level barriers and get to know them for themselves… So long as you aren’t making demands or prying into personal lives overly you should be able to do this without being an ogre.

  5. NCKat

    Is there a campus Toastmasters group? The meetings are a wonderful venue for meeting people and learning public speaking skills.

  6. Leatherwings

    I would definitely see about moving, especially since your direct report has expressed similar feelings.

    I don’t know if you have this power, but you could see about adopting a company-wide IM system like Slack. I’ve found it’s really fun for friendly chats, and could help you get to know people who work far apart from you.

  7. Eddie Turr

    A few things that might help:

    1. Are there opportunities to attend meetings or conduct some of your business on the other campus?
    2. Would using Jabber or some other instant messaging program help you feel more socially connected to people who aren’t in your physical location? I’m the only person in my building with my function, so I rely on IM to keep me connected to my counterparts in our other office.
    3. Could you schedule some kind of lunchtime socialization (a potluck, or even just getting together to order pizza) with the people on your floor?
    4. Could you use your down time to go for a walk or do something else that gets you away from your desk? Even if you’re doing it alone, it may make you feel less isolated to be out in the world for 5 minutes. This also seems like an appropriate social-y activity for a manager and direct report to do together, so maybe you could invite your employee?

    1. Tavie

      These are great suggestions.

      I’m a team lead in a small department that has 3 people in our NY office and one remote member working in our NC office, and although she sits near other people, she feels pretty isolated since she doesn’t have many reasons/opportunities to interact with those departments much during the day.

      Our team keeps in constant Jabber contact, and she’s also joined a couple of committies (social committee, the environmental committee – non-job-specific groups open to anyone) and she said it’s really helped her get to know people in the NC office and feel less lonely during the day.

    2. OP

      1. Unfortunately not. We are not connected to them on a day-to-day level, only at the governance level. The name on the front of the building is the same, but our employees and students rarely collaborate. Our IT systems are also completely separate, as we’re a medical facility.

      2. This may work, if I can get buy in from other departments to allow it. I do text/chat with my friends at the other campus to stay in touch, but it’s not quite scratching the itch for human interaction.

      3. The only person who works on my floor is my direct report. There are no other employees. We’re attached to the computer lab (as we’re tech related), but every other space on this floor is either a classroom or auditorium.

      4. Yes! I do this often, I go for 15-20 minute walks, and it helps, especially in the Spring and Summer. Unfortunately, this option is coming to a close as winter looms in the Northeast. I haven’t considered inviting my employee, that’s a good idea, thank you.

      1. Z

        I came in to recommend Slack! If you can get it used in all the campus a nice thing it does is allow for the creation of channels by interest (I’m sure other programs do this as well). For example, we have a Photography room since so many people who work here do that as a hobby. Sometimes they organize outings together. I know commute, etc is a factor for you, but IM might be a good jumping off point for making more “not work” socializing plans.

        As for buy in–my company works in three different cities and used to have many different buildings in my city. I can’t imagine functioning without the ability to quickly/reasonably ask somewhere elsewhere a question or even just have it as a tool for developing relationships with coworkers I may never meet. I know offices can function without it, but it’s a huge plus for us and hopefully won’t be too hard of a sell.

        1. Koko

          Our company Slack spawns a new channel every time a popular movie is released for people who want to discuss the movie!

      2. Cath in Canada

        My work has a walking group that goes out together one lunchtime a week (different routes and different days each week, to manage diverse schedules and physical abilities). Perhaps an all-staff email or some posters in the common area would help you connect with other interested people

    1. Ro

      Came here to say the exact same thing. I know it doesn’t help OP, but that sounds like my dream work arrangement. Different strokes!

    2. Crazy Canuck

      I am too, but that doesn’t help the OP much. In my previous job I was a one-man office in a remote location who saw the owner for a few hours each week, and that was the total of my workplace socialization. There are many days where I would trade the huge raise I got to manage a team to go back to that … but then again, I am weird.

      As for actual advice, can I recommend joining an on-line community? No matter what you are interested in, I’ll wager that somewhere online someone is talking about it. In my case, I am part of a World of Warcraft guild. I don’t play the game at work, but I did post in the guild forums and follow guild chat in the armory app on my phone during my downtime. It’s not quite the same as face to face socialization, but it did make me feel less isolated.

    3. Lizabeth

      I would love this as long as I got the answers I need in a timely manner to keep moving my work forward.

    4. Anonymous Educator

      Same here. I know that doesn’t help the OP, and I know there are a ton of Myers-Briggs haters on here, but I’m totally an introvert and would love to have a job in which I have only one social interaction a day.

      1. Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

        Speaking as someone who works in a large, open office, I wouldn’t mind the OP’s arrangement. Sorry I couldn’t give any advise. But I guess it really is all in the beholder.

        1. OP

          Given the choice, I would take my situation over yours any day. I worked in a shared office with no privacy before, it was the job that led me here. :)

          I knew my department was small, I didn’t expect the physical isolation.

      2. OP

        I identify as an introvert, but to me that means going home to recharge after social interaction. I still crave it from time to time. Right now I’m “recharging” at work *and* at home.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          Maybe this isn’t a real solution, but could you do the reverse? I know a lot of introverts deal with all the socialization at work and then “recharge” at home alone. Could you “recharge” at work alone and then do some non-work socializing in the evening?

          1. OP

            Someone else pointed this out and I think it’s part of the issue I hadn’t considered. I recently increased my commute time (unrelated to this job, we moved), leaving me less time and energy to socialize in the evenings.

            At my old job, I would go out for a drink or a bite to eat with coworkers once or twice a week since we were physically in the same location. I have no friends that work nearby to the new campus, and meeting up with friends at the old requires a 35-60 (traffic) minute trip.

            1. Meg Murry

              Does your separate campus have a gym? Could you see if there are any classes you could take at the end of your work day and then go home after that, rather than going home and then trying to socialize? Or is there anything else you could do/join on your way home from work? A knitting group, a book club, etc? Or could you volunteer after work? There is a food bank where I live that has volunteers come in a couple evenings a week to sort the donations, and that’s the kind of volunteering where you can chat while you work.

              Or heck, grad students are people too. I bet there are student organizations that would be open to having staff/community members join. Maybe there is a group that matches one of your interests you could check out. For instance, my son is only 9 but he goes to a local origami club that is held at a nearby college, and it’s about 50% students and 50% faculty/staff/community members.

              1. OP

                The gym costs employees $41/mo, and it cannot be done monthly, you have to commit to the entire 12 month period. It stinks, and it’s not like that back at the central campus.

                There are surprisingly few classes (7 total classes throughout the week, over 5 days. I just looked, hadn’t even thought about that before), but I may look into taking a Yoga one I see is offered at 5:30 on Wednesdays. Thanks for the suggestion!

                1. Apllecake

                  Don’t limit yourself to just university offerings. See what the local public library has, see what the town recreational facilities might offer. Check out meet ups for local clubs.

            2. halpful

              when I was working from home, I had to make sure I was social on the weekend, whether I wanted to or not. :) I ended up helping a friend with his parties pretty regularly. it’s really weird to look back at that time and how incredibly social I was; it was great, but so far from how I think of myself that it almost feels like a separate persona developed. my brain can’t quite grasp the idea that I can be so awkward one day and so… well, so *charismatic* another day. like, how the fuck did that happen? :)

          2. twentymilehike

            This is sort of a great solution, actually.

            My work day flip flops a lot on the interaction scale. On the days where I’m just stuck in front of my computer alone, I need desperately to go *do things* in the evening (I go to a climbing gym, so it’s an easy last minute way to go somewhere where you can interact with people at random). On the days where I’m just stretched thin with meetings and lunches and team work, I spend my evenings relaxing alone.

            Also, if needed, I’ll take a longer-ish mid-day break to go away from work for a while and have lunch with a friend. It’s breaks up the day, hence breaking up the monotony (or isolation).

        2. Koko

          I hear you on that. It’s a shame that so many people misunderstand introversion as shyness or even misanthropy. It’s just about whether socializing energizes you or drains you, and being drained by something doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy it or that you pathologically avoid it.

          Running 5 miles on the elliptical exhausts me, but I enjoy doing it and make time for it several times a week. Socializing exhausts me, but I enjoy doing it and make time for it several times a week.

          1. Crazy Canuck

            As a misanthrope who is also an introvert, I agree with the above. They are two very separate things.

  8. PF

    ::raises hand:: Our department is split into three offices, in three different spaces on our campus. Myself and two other staff got the office in the basement of a building that is furthest from the other two offices.

    We find we have to be very intentional about making opportunities for the kind of casual conversation and water-cooler talk that is both social and can lead to good work-related communication.

    – We asked if others in our department would mind sending us an email or text if they were planning to go out for a group lunch. We do the same for them when the three of us are planning to go out.
    – We set up the coffeepot in our office space, the mailboxes are in one of the other offices, and the third office has a constantly replenished jar of chocolates. So all of us have incentive to physically visit the other spaces and mingle with those colleagues.
    – As a department we make sure to have regular scheduled in-person meetings instead of doing it all by phone or IM.

    Depending on how far you are, physically, from others at your level these may not apply. But I hope they’re helpful thoughts!

  9. Lora

    Seconding the suggestion for mentoring – both of the people who are lower level than you, and from the managers with more experience. Is there a manager who is particularly respected, who would be able and willing to advise you informally and treat you as a sort of protege? It’s a good way to build business relationships that you would otherwise have difficulty developing.

    Are there any local chapters of professional associations in your field? Not only do you get to meet new and interesting people, you can meet people at work just by sticking flyers for special events on bulletin boards, sort of thing.

  10. MK

    Look, I felt a certain measure of what you describe when I was assigned a new position that moved me from a conference-room-style office I shared with 7 other peers-coworkers to one I shared only with my assistant; and the two offices were right next to eachother! So I sympathise.

    But I am not sure I understand exactly what your problem is. If you are looking fot watercooler type chat, why does it matter that your peers are older than you? And would it really cross boundaries to have that with lower-level coworkers? It wouldn’t in my workplace and our field is rigidly hierarchical. If the issue is that even these people are not in the same building as you, and moving isn’t an option, I am sorry but I don’t think there is anything to be done.

    1. Koko

      I think this is definitely a key element to consider. I do polite chit-chat in the kitchen to 60 year old VPs and 21 year old interns alike, and it’s fine. We talk about the weather or the latest Metro fire or road closure or some other local concern, compliment someone’s outfit or haircut, idly share PG weekend plans, discuss the food we’re heating up and swap recipe tips…most of them are people I wouldn’t have any interest in seeing outside of work but it’s easy enough to find fodder for general chit-chat in the kitchen, even with people I have very little in common with.

      1. NYCJessa

        I wonder if there is a way that you can get in touch with whomever held this position before you? Maybe you can chat with them to find out if they had the same experience or figured out ways to combat the isolated feelings.

  11. animaniactoo

    Are there options for meeting up with friends for lunch on occasion to round out weeks when it would be too frequent to keep going with your 1:1?

    Do you think your age gap with the other managers is really that great? There are a lot of topics that cross age gaps. Sports, tv shows, etc. I’ve discovered that some of the strictest seeming old fuddy duddies have great senses of humor and are wickedly funny and engaging when they’re in “relax” mode. Maybe ask the most approachable one to lunch as “I’ve worked in this building for a year, but I don’t think I’ve really gotten to know anyone and I’d like to.”?

    1. Alienor

      I agree, the age gap shouldn’t be a big deal, but it seems a lot of people in their 20s are really weirded out by it. I have quite a few younger co-workers (I’m 45) who are visibly uncomfortable when they interact with me, like I’m their teacher or their mom or something. I really wish they’d calm down and just talk to me like a person instead of An Older Lady. :/

      1. Moonsaults

        It’s not fair but to remind you that our brains don’t fully develop until the mid-20s. So these are “adults” by law but mentally still very much learning, especially if it’s one of their first jobs! They have probably been conditioned to fear adults (think all the teachers they’ve dealt with up until the moment they were thrown into your office…so of course they are terrified of you! Instead of detention, you can get them fired!)

        1. SarahTheEntwife

          Sometimes younger people feel awkward around older people because they’re treated like children whose brains haven’t fully formed yet rather than equal coworkers. :-/

        2. Bellatrix

          I know you didn’t mean it like that, but I’ve grown almost allergic to that “brains don’t stop developing until X” (and X seems to be getting higher and higher) factoid.

          It just seems like another way to put down millenials. I’m not disputing the validity of the study, but it’s not that relevant to assessing everyday behaviour. Brains aren’t constant anyway – the fact that they’re still developing isn’t a generic reason for everything an under-25 does. People make great scientific discoveries, write masterpieces, raise children and lead wars all before their 25th birthday. Surely we’re competent enough to have lunch with you :)

          Similarly, a lot happens with your brain cells in middle and old age and that isn’t a reason to dismiss everyone in that age group either!

          1. Koko

            By the way, something that really is true of Millennials vs other generations that could explain this is the extent to which our early social experiences all take place in hyper-age-segregated environments. Your classmates at school are within 1 year of you. Your soccer teammates are within 1 year of you. Your scout troop members are within 1-2 years of you.

            Historically children grew up having more opportunities to socialize in mixed-age environments. A big one was church where adults went to service and kids who didn’t want to sit through service could go to Sunday school and that was the division. By the time early Millennials were being born, a lot of Sunday schools had divided into age-based classes, and by the time late Millennials were born church had become largely irrelevant to huge swaths of society.

            I think the overall phenomenon of increasingly more activities available to children being narrowly grouped by age has contributed to a generation that feels a little more uncomfortable around people more than a few years older or younger than them, purely because of lack of practice and not anything wrong with our brains.

          2. The Strand

            Honestly, not everyone discusses this to put down millenials; anyone who does use it (say in a clickbait article) is using bad science.

            All of us over-25 adults – until we get to the Star Trek universe level of tech and start pumping out Data androids or clones – were young once. So… Everyone over the age of 25, including Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers, and older seniors has frontal lobes and virtually all of us “came of age” at the same rough period of time – our early to mid twenties. Anyone in their twenties has a much more developed frontal lobe than someone who’s say, 15, making better decisions and being better at predicting change. (I don’t think many 15 year olds are hanging out on Ask a Manager, but I would think their frontal lobes are growing just fine.)

            By the time you’re 25 there’s just not going to be much difference lobe-wise between you and someone who’s 30 or 40 or 50. Though there are also folks who have had traumatic brain injuries or disease-related damage to their lobes.

            If someone does suggest that a 23 year old’s lobes are making them much more immature than someone who’s 40… they probably don’t have a strong handle on the science, and what a statistical difference actually looks like. I buy that a 23 or 24 year old might still be struggling to adapt to adult or post-grad life, but that’s not necessarily brain science, it’s as likely or more to be social adaptation. You spend almost all of your life until that time in school, and a full time job is a big adjustment.

      2. Whats In A Name

        I remember I used to be awkward around anyone 40 or over for awhile when I started working professionally (food service was a different story) because I still has some weird professor/parent/all-knowing complex type thing going on.

        I don’t know when I finally realized that the President is just like me – maybe not until I was close to 30 & my jackass friends were getting jobs as managers and department heads and we were still partying like rockstars on the weekends. Turns out that those with more experience/higher positions are likely just as jackass-ish as my friends in their off time. Not that its ever appropriate to discuss that actual topic.

    2. OP

      I’ve given a lot of thought to the age gap question, as I normally do not have issues connecting socially with people, and in past jobs have made friends of various ages. It’s very, very possible that some of the ‘blame’ lies with me.

      Thinking on it, it’s that I rarely have the opportunity to encounter anyone in a situation where it’s possible or appropriate to have those conversations. I misspoke in my letter in a misguided attempt to be generic – we actually do not have a central cafeteria, I am attached to a computer lab.

      I rarely have the opportunity to ask “Did you catch the game last night?” as we only encounter each other in professional settings, in the hallway, etc. I do go and get coffee on the other side at least once a day, but it’s hit and miss if I encounter anyone.

  12. CreationEdge

    If you think it could satisfy your itch, you could look into a technology solution, such as group IM or chat.

    If you have a standing group IM or a chat (Slack is great and free), then you can talk more casually about topics.

    Or you can try to establish relationships with coworkers at the main site and switch over to occasional 1:1 IMs.

    Using IM and chat for casual conversation at work is very common in my field, and it works great for me at work and at home. And the asynchronous nature of chat lets me still interact with others, even when our availability doesn’t line up perfectly.

    Another tactic is to set up some networking meetings with folks, if your work culture allows for it. Essentially, you just schedule 15 – 30 minutes with a someone in orden to ask about their career, what kind of stuff they do now, what brought them to the job. You can do this over a quick coffee or soda, reinforcing that it’s casual.

    The main thing is that you’ll have to take the initiative, since you’re unfortunately in a location that’s easy for others to forget about. Make your presence known, and that you’re interested in your peers. At some point you might run into colleague where you “click” and that work relationship begins.

  13. sssssssss

    All of the suggestions so far are excellent. I want to add this: do you have Lync or Skype on your work systems? I worked in one office and my teams (I worked with several) were all in another province. Friday afternoons would be dead in my branch but I would Skype with a teammate over in the other province and it gave me a sense of connection and plenty of water cooler chit chat…and my favourite fellow to chat with was 20 years younger than me. We had plenty of fun chatting.

    Age is not a barrier to having things in common with people.

  14. Loopy

    Ooooh this was my predicament in my first job!!!! I got to the point where I just wanted noise, some sign of life. I started listening to radio DJs and podcasts to help ease the extreme sense of isolation. It’s definitely not a long term solution but it did help for a while. I’d also make sure to have lunch and breaks outside for a change of scenery .

    1. OP

      This letter was originally going to run a little over a week ago – since then I’ve requisitioned myself some speakers and have tried this and find it certainly does help, and it’s much less monotonous than reading training materials, or even AAM (sorry, I love this site, but reading about toxic employers can be draining!).

      1. Beleva

        I have had more than one job like this and I understand what you are going through. I’m also an introvert, but that certainly doesn’t mean I want to be by myself all the time! Radio is great as it makes you feel connected with the outside world in real time. Is there anyone else you notice on campus having coffee alone? In one of my old jobs, two people from the next door office would go get coffee every day. They would occasionally stop and say hi. I wish my boss would have been okay with me taking my break early so I could have coffee with them instead of taking it at lunch time. Just an idea – try to set up a coffee or lunch date on campus – could just be someone you see around occasionally

  15. Murphy

    Ugh, just want to say that I sympathize. In my old job, my whole department was co-located except me. I was in a long public hallway with a few professors (I am not a professor) nearby and classrooms across the hall. There was a break room, but no one ever ate in there, so I either ate outside by myself or alone at my desk. I would go down to the others in my department when I had a question or a meeting with my boss, but it felt weird to go down there just to chat, so I never did.

    I’m actually similarly lonely now, though there are people around. My job keeps me alone at my desk 8 hours a day the vast majority of days. All of the cubes near me are empty. I’m kind of a department of one, so I have no “peers”. I eat alone every day, and rarely ever get to even make small talk with anyone. (I will admit that part of this is because I’m shy/have social anxiety, but still.) I was first to a large meeting one day, and a few women from my office (who definitely saw me) sat at an empty table rather than join me at mine.

    I do think that age can be a factor. Not that you can’t socialize with people of a different age, but people of similar ages tend to flock together, and if there’s another barrier preventing socialization also, that can make it more difficult.

  16. CaliCali

    Without the management component, I’ve been in this situation (and am somewhat in it now). It can be grueling in a way that many people don’t realize. I agree with Eddie Turr’s recommendations above.

    Additionally, I think it can be an adjustment from passive socialization to active — your situation practically demands that you’ll have to make a direct effort to see and interact with people. So what I’d recommend is talking to your fellow managers (they’re older but I feel like that’s a distinction without a difference as you move up the corporate ladder) and asking them to get coffee, or to get lunch. Maybe even just be honest — “I’d like to get away from the island a bit here; want to get lunch sometime this week?” or something like that.

    Also, a year is a relatively short amount of time in a new role. I bet in two years, after enacting some of the community’s suggestions here, you’ll be feeling a lot better. I know I am.

    1. OP

      >Also, a year is a relatively short amount of time in a new role. I bet in two years, after enacting some of the community’s suggestions here, you’ll be feeling a lot better. I know I am.

      My career has not lent itself to sticking around very long. I’ve worked for 3 business units in the University in 5 years, leaving for skip-level promotions each time.

      There is *clearly* a me component to this as well, and you may have found a part of it I hadn’t considered before. I’m looking at a year as 33-50% of my tenure, while for other people it’s far, far less. So my expectations may just be well out of line.

  17. Venus Supreme

    At OldJob, it was a lousy open-concept layout and I did not get along well with my coworker and boss. I felt very lonely and isolated as well, and my only social interaction that I truly enjoyed was with the interns- but their weekly time in the office was so little. I actually became really good friends with the building’s doorman, which is a funny companionship between a 50-year-old male and a 20-something young girl. I also made sure I had a get-together lined up with a family member or friend at least once a week. Knowing I had something “social” to look forward to every week kept my spirits up.

    Podcasts helped too. I’m from the NYC-area so I listened to Elvis Duran and their spin-off podcasts on the iHeartRadio app. I straight-up pretended they were my friends, and it’s new content every weekday!

    I know how the isolation feels, from my own experience, and I’m not saying it’s exactly how you’re feeling, OP. I hope it gets better, especially with the crummy winter we have approaching in the next few months. I ended up switching jobs with more peers my age (and it’s a dog-friendly environment!) so I only know the short-term fixes. I’d keep on your boss about changing locations if you absolutely cannot befriend anyone at work.

    1. OP

      > I actually became really good friends with the building’s doorman, which is a funny companionship between a 50-year-old male and a 20-something young girl.

      There is one other person on my floor that I neglected to mention – our contracted security guard. He’s an older Haitian man and I make it a point to chat with him when I can, but he’s fairly busy throughout the day, and as an employee of a contracted security company, under much stricter management of his time.

  18. pussycats and toast

    Is there a way to schedule a regular check-in with either your boss or your employee, or both? I don’t know the nature of your work so maybe a weekly meeting is a waste of time, but every Monday I have a half-hour one-on-one with my direct manager. We talk about my priorities for the week, department priorities, upcoming events, questions/concerns, etc etc etc. For both of us, the benefits are primarily performance-related; I work in sales on large, time-consuming contracts, so keeping tabs on where my specific clients are in the process is super important to monitoring our department’s success. However, it’s also a great chance for both of us (primarily her) to do a temperature check — are these tactics working for you, are you getting enough down time, can I support you in any capacity, etc. So it also has the benefit of being a social connection as well.

    It doesn’t have to be that long or that detailed, but having a standing face-to-face — or even over the phone! — could make a positive difference for you.

    1. OP

      I check in 1:1 with my Manager weekly, since we never see each other. But that relationship is strictly professional.

      I don’t have regular 1:1 with my employee, because it’s just the two of us we have a lot of casual 1:1 time. Around once a month or so I schedule a more formal sit down and treat it more professionally, bring up coaching issues, hear her complaints, etc. It’s generally a very healthy, copacetic environment, so more frequent isn’t needed.

      But a few people have pointed out I can probably be more social with her than I have been. I’ve probably been too guarded there.

  19. H.C.

    If your workplace have in-person professional development opportunities (seminars, lectures, class series), take advantage of them. Often there’ll be some networking time before/after.

    Also, see if there are less formal, employee-organized activities that interest you – such as volunteering, book clubs, workout/fitness groups – posted on Intranet, bulletin boards, etc.

    You may consider balancing out your workplace’s solitude with more interaction opportunities outside of work, such as professional societies, alumni groups or even relevant Meetups after hours or on weekends.

    Lastly, I would definitely revisit / follow-up on the moving out of a converted closet issue in the near future.

    1. OP

      The only group I’m aware of is a Weight Watchers group, which I have no interest in. I could try to start a group, however, that’s an excellent idea. Particularly a professional development group for the other younger people around the school.

      Be the change you want in the world, as they say.

      >Lastly, I would definitely revisit / follow-up on the moving out of a converted closet issue in the near future.

      My boss is 100% on my side, but we are completely out of space. I am also in charge of IT, so having my office connected to the computer lab makes sense to the higher ups. While I am not necessarily front line support, we’re so small that we all wear many hats, and I need to be accessible to people using our classroom spaces.

    2. Government Worker

      OP mentioned working in a graduate program in a university, so I immediately thought of the constant flow of lectures, panels, department events, etc. at my grad programs, many of them over lunch. You’d probably want to steer clear of student-run organization meetings, but otherwise staff would have been welcome to attend pretty much all of the events. Our IT staff typically didn’t attend, but some of the other administrative staff occasionally did. And honestly most people who organized talks were just happy to see more participants and more people interested in their topic, whatever it was.

      Also, at my university there was a work/life center for faculty and staff. Even if they’re located on the main campus they might be able to offer help or ideas or money for organizing a monthly staff lunch or a book group or something.

      1. OP

        We are a medical graduate school, the lectures and talks are completely inaccessible to me. And I have an interest in learning! But none of them are at a general public level.

        1. Ultraviolet

          Do any of the talks have receptions before and after, where people mingle for awhile (probably with coffee and snacks)? That’s pretty common. They’re obviously intended for people who attended the talk, but in some places they wouldn’t begrudge a staff member coming too. Especially if you don’t take the snacks!

        2. The Strand

          You’re in IT, a group that historically is siloed at many standard institutions. But I’d suggest you look into the junction of medical education and elearning, since you’re in IT at a medical school. Find out what interests you that bridges medicine, learning and technology. Maybe one of the following will be of interest to you professionally, or maybe only from a hobby standpoint, but these are good areas where you might find connections with your colleagues:

          – Check out the work that Stanford is doing with MedicineX.
          – Read KevinMD once a week.
          – Look into #FOAMED and social media. Start with Life in the Fast Lane, then ALIEM.
          – Learn about the ACGME. Just looking at the 2000 Toolbox will tell you a lot about how the students are assessed.
          – Read AAMC’s MedEdPortal (it’s free).
          – Read about competency-based education. This is going to be increasingly important and you might end up being on the hook if you administer any learning systems.
          – And you belong to Educause, and user groups for the software you manage, right?

          Find out who is already on the cutting edge at your institution, rather than anxious about technology. I.e. find out who is the unofficial “tech guy” or “tech gal” in different departments, and then ask them to have coffee with you, and find out how they’re using the technology at your school. (One way to do it is to have an open house, or do a survey, then provide some training or “open lab” for your people.) Those people are less likely to care about what age you are or your institutional title, and more about your ideas.

          My experience has been that if you’re open to working with a variety of people, on ideas, opportunities spring up … conversations spring from those opportunities… conversations can sometimes turn into collegial relationships… and those spring into genuine friendships. Those friendships often again spur new projects. Just find the people who love ideas, aren’t scared of technology, and would welcome getting to know you.

  20. ZVA

    My first impulse is to say yes, you’re expecting too much from your job—but that’s because I don’t expect work to fulfill any of my social needs, and I keep my personal/professional lives quite separate. The vast majority of my interactions with colleagues/clients are strictly work-related; I keep water cooler chit chat to a minimum, etc. (Perhaps to a fault!) I would just rather focus on work when I’m at work.

    That said, why not give socializing with the older managers or your direct report a try? It’s perfectly possible to keep things professional while eating lunch with someone & getting to know them a bit better—that’s been my experience traveling for business with my boss. It sounds like there are people in your orbit you could socialize with—you’ve just decided not to because they’re too old, or they’re not a manager, or whatever else. I would urge you to toss out those assumptions—you may find you have more in common with the older managers than you thought. What do you have to lose?

  21. BRR

    You would need an office culture that works this way and colleagues who would be ok with this but at a previous employer, people would sometimes spontaneously drop by people on other floors to say hi (I know a lot of readers and people in general would not like this).

  22. Moonsaults

    Part of the reason why I started becoming suicidal at the end of my last job was due to the isolation factor and that I had nobody at work that I had any sort of reasonable friendship kind of relationship with. I was the manager and everyone else was in production, much older than I was and male. So I sympathize with you and this can be a slippery slope depending on your personal life on top of it all. If you don’t have an active social life outside of work, then the isolation at work can be even more suffocating.

    I would suggest if you cannot fix it at work, to make your free time outside of work more exiting. Then you will possibly look forward to the downtime. You can also start taking online classes that when you have downtime, you can learn something that pertains to your career path and therefore makes you even better in the long run.

    I know that you also need to shake the issue off that you’re the youngest and that the older ones “have no interest” in being friendly with you. That’s bogus. I came into the workplace at 19 years old and had all older coworkers until very recently. Those older people do care about you and would be okay with you being friendly with them. Ask them about their weekends just the same as you would anyone else, they’re probably more fun and less buttoned up than you are thinking.

    You have to find what works best for you and the best coping mechanisms. Just like when we have those bland nasty work tasks that we dread that come around. There’s a way to buckle down and get it done and be okay with it.

    If you cannot find a way to feel better, I want to encourage you to explore your other work options as well. Sometimes we’re not suited for the environment even if we’re amazing at the job. That doesn’t reflect on you, we all have our needs that have to be met or you will be stuck in a job that’s killing you and nobody wants that!

    1. OP

      >I would suggest if you cannot fix it at work, to make your free time outside of work more exiting

      So glad for all of these comments – they’re shedding light on parts of the problem that I hadn’t even considered.

      I recently moved and my commute went from 75 minutes per day to 180 minutes per day, so I have less out of work time for socialization.

      >Those older people do care about you and would be okay with you being friendly with them. Ask them about their weekends just the same as you would anyone else, they’re probably more fun and less buttoned up than you are thinking.

      This is true, I just lack the appropriate opportunities to socialize due to the physical isolation. But you’re right, there’s no reason I can’t get them to text me if they go out to lunch. I’m probably interpreting our lack of connection thus far as a lack of potential connection.

      1. Moonsaults

        What if you set up a “group lunch” kind of thing? So you can all get together at lunch time since you’re spread out and reconnect? It could be a group bonding thing as well. I know that at my BF’s old job they had a “lunch bunch” that used to always connect at lunch since they were all very much spread out throughout the building and not really able to socialize with each other in other departments.

        This could also get you in with the older ones who may want the socialization but didn’t know what to do. It’s about the one person who wants it so much that they make it happen, you could turn the table and make the place a much better place all around.

        Or they could be the ones who don’t want to be social at work and thats OK but you won’t know that unless you push the boundaries a bit.

      2. twentymilehike

        OH that commute! I have a coworker with a similarly long commute. I know one thing she does is plan to spend some evenings locally after work to avoid traffic. In her case, that means having some friends in the area to meet up with regularly after work. Maybe not the most ideal, since it can be quite a task to try to randomly make new friends, but not impossible. I’m on the fence withe MeetUp, but it’s certainly an option.

      3. Sparrow

        Oof, I feel you on the commute thing. I rarely want to do anything once I make it home. Do you have friends that work in the university system who might be able to connect you with friends/former coworkers who work in your part of campus? Universities are highly interconnected in my experience – everyone seems to know at least one random person in another department. I have the occasional lunch or walk with a friend or acquaintance from the other side of campus and it’s a nice way to get fresh faces in my work life.

  23. NW Mossy

    I’d suggest looking into resources aimed at remote workers and those that work from home, because in effect, that’s basically what’s happening to you – you have physical separation from others that you work with, and that’s often challenging for people who are doing it for the first time. While the separation distance you have is shorter, it’s just enough to trigger a lot of the same issues.

    Even though I’m on site and get a lot of social interaction with my team and my department, I’m the only manager at my level in this department so I have to take extra steps to interact with my peer managers. One thing that’s helped me build relationships is find those managers that I have a natural business interest in meeting with and set up a regular check-in with them. It’s genuinely business-useful for the content, but the personal relationships that emerge out of seeing each other regularly helps a lot too.

  24. Biscuits McGee

    I have had similar problems at my current job with that same issue, feeling isolated. It’s more a location, co-worker problem then a position problem, as least it was for me. My previous job I was a VP, but the office, the people were incredible. We got our work done, and everyone seemed to enjoy some nice chit chat, and good lunches.

    My current job (as I was laid off from that perfect job!), I am a lower position, but the people above and below are no one I would socialize with as we just don’t mesh well. At first it really hurt my feelings, as in 4 years I had lunch with my boss just once and that was because a company was taking the department out. I tried and tried to make conversation with people and it just never worked. And to make matters worse, like you, I have an isolated office, where I can go days without seeing anyone,

    Finally I just came to conclusion that I am working for my life outside of work. I told myself, I am not here to socialize, I am here to gain experience. I have a very full life with many friends outside of work, and even friends still from my previous job. Once I understood that on a deeper level, I felt free. Now I don’t feel the need to participate in functions outside work (Summer party, Christmas party), as no one even notices.

    It’s tough at times, as I am a social person, but I am reminded, that nothing is perfect and I doubt this is going to be my last job. When the right opportunity comes along I will take it with no regrets. Until then I make sure I keep great social contacts with friendly vendors and previous co-workers. I even do what is so passe now, I pick up the phone and call friends, so I get to hear a friendly voice. Good luck!!

  25. Chris

    Blunt comments: It sounds like you have a fair bit of free time on your hands, if you’re filling it with self-directed training and reading AAM. A 1:1 manager / direct report ratio is pretty hard to justify on the basis of needing to spend time managing that person; typically a manager with that few direct reports is directly engaged in the team’s work and functions more as a ‘lead hand’ than a full-time administrator. I’d suggest that until your ratio increases to where the administrative function requires a significant portion of your attention, that you ask your upper management to load more functional work on your team, and tackle it yourself. This not only engages you in productive work that the team can share, and engage in conversations with you about to build a rapport on a work level, but it might give you an opportunity to ask your management to set you up a desk in the open area, and reserve your ‘office / closet’ for times when you need private discussion space. This gets you out in the open, in the flow of things, and aware of what’s going on, and less isolated. It means the team produces more, and it engages you in how the team is actually doing the work on a day to day basis, so that your directions come from understanding.

    Any of these arguments will be seen as valid and reasonable in a well run organization.

    1. OP

      My work is 51% management, 49% hands on. I am in charge of IT for our small school, and the reason I have downtime is that my team is excellent. A bored system administrator is a good system administrator, as they say.

  26. Hypatia

    I completely understand how you feel, OP. When I opened my company’s office in another city, I was literally alone in the office all day in a business lounge of mostly empty offices, and the loneliness definitely got to me. Fortunately much of my work consists of taking meetings in my office, so as business picked up, my sense of being totally alone was alleviated.

    I really recommend trying to befriend the people who are around you, whether they work for your company or not, or even try to set up lunch dates with friends who work nearby, to take the edge off how you feel.

    1. thunderbird

      Similar situation. I have managed to figure out the day to day personal contact with others around me. However, my team has an out of sight out of mind mentality and despite everything I have tried to do, manage up, ask for check ins, etc. My team works in silos and I am completely isolated from my organization. I feel more close with people from other companies in my physical area.

  27. Sandy Nolen - KunbaHR.com HR Blogger

    Even though your work space makes it a bit more difficult to socialize, I think if you truly want to socialize with your coworkers, then you should find a way. You mentioned that you only went to lunch with your manager only once. Did you ask him/her for lunch. What about your co-workers or your employees? Are you just waiting for them to ask you to go with them or are you proactively asking them to go out for lunch? You may want to propose once a month social hour?

    1. ArtsAdmin4Life

      I agree. Does the OP work with other people or departments in his/her current work location? Any friends or colleagues work nearby? I tend to be a introvert, and with a toddler at home, I don’t get out much. To force myself to be social, I now try to book lunch with a different work colleague or friend in the area, about once a week. You’d be amazed at how delighted people are to be invited to lunch!

    2. OP

      > You mentioned that you only went to lunch with your manager only once. Did you ask him/her for lunch.

      Yes, I initiated that one. My boss has made it abundantly clear that she has no interest in a social relationship. In a year she has shared almost nothing about her personal life, and I respect that completely. She will ask me polite questions when we meet, she genuinely likes me and we get along fantastically, it’s just strictly professional.

        1. OP

          We’re available if they need help (that’s why I’m attached to the public computer lab), but that’s one of my team’s functions, so it’s just more work. It’s also not social when you’re “serving” someone as your customer. Due to the reach I have into various IT systems (grading, records, etc.) developing a social relationship with students isn’t in my best interest. Plus, they see me as part of administration – that one I am definitely not misinterpreting, they don’t want to be friends.

          They are all medical-types, so their work is actually well beyond me, so we’re even limited in that function. We keep the systems running, but you’d be surprised how little I know about oral medicine!

          1. Jaguar

            People in service industry jobs do get their social itch scratched (to some degree, anyway) by interacting with people. Maybe it could relieve the stress to adopt a more informal and casual way of helping students? Unless you’re exclusively looking for more profound and/or permanent social connections.

          2. surrounded by health sciences

            I work with medical-type folks and their stuff is way beyond me, but I ask them questions anyway. Eventually I start understanding a little bit.

            I’ve asked them what their specialty is and why they like it. People love talking about themselves and their interests.

            All you really need to know about oral medicine is to brush your teeth anyway, right? :)

  28. Archie Goodwin

    I’m actually in a similar position to the OP right now – I work in a cube, but many of the folks around me telework most of the week, so I don’t often have much of an opportunity to socialize. Walking would be nice, but this isn’t a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, really.

    What I find helps me, often, is to leave the building for a few minutes a couple of times a day – even for something like a fast-food or soda run – to get a change of scenery. Even if the weather’s unpleasant, I can drive to McDonald’s or the grocery store. Even the act of getting up and moving away helps, but the change of scenery is what really peps me up.

  29. Nonee mousse

    Better to socialize with nobody at work than with everybody at the unemployment / welfare office. Just sayin’…

    1. amysee

      I don’t think this is a particularly helpful comment, and it could be said for the majority of the people who write to AAM. Literally every situation could, theoretically, be worse.

    2. Moonsaults

      She’s not saying that she’s ready to walk out the door if things don’t change…so this makes no sense to tell someone who is asking for advice not validation.

  30. KimberlyR

    I worked at a remote branch of my company by myself for over a year. And now, there is only 1 other additional person. I have formed work friendships with a lot of coworkers over the phone. It isn’t the same as sharing lunch with a coworker/friend but I do get to touch base and have off-work conversations with people throughout my day, as we chat about weekend plans or whatever.

    I do think its worth trying to get to know those older managers. Just because there is an age gap doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have common ground. Maybe you like to ride bikes for charity events outside of work, and another manager happens to be a cycling enthusiast. Why not try to schedule some lunches with them, as a sort of icebreaker situation (or coffee or whatever. Sounds like you can’t just drop by, as they don’t sound like they work close to you geographically, so you may have to do some planning. But why not?)

    If you have enough downtime that you can physically be out of your office for a little while, why not take daily exercise walks around campus and try to meet people that way? Maybe you can find some nice walks around certain areas and have people you can stop and chat with for a few minutes each day. Even if these aren’t managers and are technically below you in hierarchy, you can still be work friendly without becoming friends and crossing a line.

    You and your direct report can have lunch sometimes or can chat about generic personal stuff. (Your report mentions she is going to local big city for a weekend, and you tell her about that one restaurant that you loved, and the fun museum you happened across one time.) You can have friendly chit chat without becoming friends and crossing a boundary. And having lunch once or twice a month with her will probably help you both with the isolation but won’t come across as boundary-crossing to anyone.

    It is more difficult to work at a distance from other members of your work team, but there are ways to mitigate that if you open yourself up to a few things that may be out of your comfort zone. Ultimately, it may be that this isn’t the job for you and you have to move on to a work environment that encourages team bonding a little more. But the fact that you’re a young manager will probably follow you until you age up a little more. So stepping outside your comfort zone and outside of your age range is probably the best first step you can take to trying to make this job work for you.

  31. Penelope Pitstop

    Sorry if anyone else has already said this, but maybe it’s just a mental reframing of what socializing at work looks like? I realize your management peers are older than you, but what if you sought out someone that you admire and ask them if they’d be up for a running coffee date (or lunch or whatever) to learn from his/her experience, bounce-off ideas or challenges, etc? Or start a lunch & learn or a lunch bookgroup / movie club (insert broad interest that appeals to all kinds of people here).

  32. MMSW

    You say you’re “happier all around” are you? If you are then learn to live with it. But maybe you really aren’t happier, you just feel that you should be for all the reasons you listed- is the work more enjoyable to you than your previous position, is being the youngest manager making you uncomfortable and causing more problems than positives? If so look for something else, if you truly are happier all around in your life, focus on that! And maybe try to strike up conversations with people at coffee shops or lunch counters (not in a creepy way) see if you form any new friendships that way- maybe pick a spot to go to a few times a week and see if you notice anyone else going to that spot on their own and if there’s a noninvasive way to start a convo- Where did you get that____, I love that author’s other book, etc- try it.

    1. Murphy

      It is possible to enjoy your job overall and still really want to change one particular aspect of it.

    2. OP

      >is the work more enjoyable to you than your previous position,

      By a factor of infinity. They gave me this department to build from the ground up and I have almost complete autonomy.

      > is being the youngest manager making you uncomfortable and causing more problems than positives?

      Nope, I have sensed no lack of respect or difficulties working professionally with my peers. Being in tech, they understand that the “best” people for the job may be younger. It’s also higher ed, so it’s a bit old and stuffy to begin with. And we MAY be the oldest and stuffiest one around.

      >>maybe pick a spot to go to a few times a week and see if you notice anyone else going to that spot on their own and if there’s a noninvasive way to start a convo- Where did you get that____, I love that author’s other book, etc- try it.

      Totally un-work related, is this a thing to do? I’ve avoided it thus far. I’m a man (though am amused many people have assumed I’m a woman in the comments), I feel very uncomfortable approaching people in public like this. People like to be left alone, especially on lunch, and there’s a gender dynamic that makes me reluctant to approach any women unprompted in public.

      1. Nerf

        I can only speak for myself, but I don’t particularly enjoy being approached in public like this. I don’t care if we’ve seen each other in the same coffee shop 15 times – I’m not going to talk to you, please don’t talk to me.

        1. twentymilehike

          I think this is hit-or-miss. I can be quite insecure, and if I’m a regular somewhere, I actually enjoy when I get to know the other regulars. It would be welcome, in my case. And I’m a woman, and it wouldn’t bother me at all to talk to a non-creepy man. Sometimes when you see the same people over and over and never talk, it seems silly not to at lease say hi once in a while.

          But definitely be aware of the vibe!

      2. twenty points for the copier

        The convention here is to use female pronouns when none are given, so some of it may be assumptions and some may be gender neutral.

        Agree with you on approaching people in public. I think there are instances where it is OK (such as waiting in line), if people can be really cognizant of when someone doesn’t want a conversation and respect it. but if someone is reading a book or listening to music, it’s not generally so that they can strike up conversations with strangers.

        I work from home primarily so I definitely can feel the sense of isolation if too long goes by without talking to anyone. Though in my case the work itself is fairly conversational so on days when I do have work related phone calls I end up feeling like I’ve gotten sufficient social interaction. Though it depends on the day and the call.

        When I first started working from home, I was new to the city and basically worked, slept, worked out (at home or outside, not at a gym) and did errands. Over the past couple of years, I have started doing a lot more in the evenings and have some regular activities and that has helped TREMENDOUSLY. Though 180 minutes of commuting is tough! If there’s any way you can build at least one or two evening activities into your schedule without exhausting yourself, though, I’d definitely recommend that.

      3. Sofia

        So, a tip I read somewhere is to take a book or have a book with you or near you and let people approach you!

        If you like to read of course.

        1. Sofia

          I looked into this because I was in a similar situation, but if you go to like Chipotle or somewhere casual that is busy for lunch and put a book on the table for everyone to see (don’t read it because then no one will want to interrupt you). Then someone might bring it up :) Or if you have other hobbies maybe carry something that shows that.

        2. Sofia

          Oh, I just thought of something else. I am in a kind of similar situation, I work in a small office of just 7 people (3 are almost never in the office) and all are a lot older than me and things get pretty slow here so I get pretty bored. I do talk to my coworkers and we are friendly, but when I go home my boyfriend does homework all evening, so I know what you mean about not having “real” social interactions.

          What about looking on groupon/living social to try new things? If you are a workout person (at least in my city) they have so many classes available. I joined a kickboxing gym and go there twice a week. Another thing, I know you mentioned a long commute, but what about calling someone? Also, you could try searching for penpals online. I always get excited when I get e-mails.

      4. Hrovitnir

        Yeeeeah, I mean you can approach people if you’re sensitive to “NOPE” body language but the advice about either approaching people who are reading or taking a book and being approachable confuses me because everyone I’ve ever met who likes reading is reading… to read. You 0% want to be approached while you’re reading, it’s like getting someone who’s going for a run to stop and talk to you about running. O_o

        I’m afraid I have no advice in terms of the rest of it but thought I’d weigh in on reading in public specifically since it’s dear to my heart.

  33. EddieSherbert

    My department is also in a separate building from most of the company (the building is fairly close to the main one, but it still leads to some isolation).

    If you’re looking for more friend-like activities, I do have a couple suggestions:
    If it’s a school… do they have a fitness center? Or fitness center classes? I know some of that might be student-targeted, but it might be worth seeing if there’s anything for faculty. Or trying to start a yoga/weight-lifting/treadmills/whatever group.

    Also, my department started hosting a monthly game night in our building that has taken off pretty well. Once word got out, people invited people, or asked for invites, etc. But it’s been a lot of fun and has actually led to (nerd-alert) a smaller group of us starting a D&D campaign together.

    We also have a company social-media-type platform on Yammer, so we can share things in a “Water Cooler” group (since we don’t see anyone at physical water coolers anymore).

  34. Girasol

    Somebody at work started up a paperback trade box in our break room – the take one/leave one sort. If you’re a reader, and alongside a public area, could you put one by your office? It might lure in people of similar interests and perhaps give you the opportunity to start up a friendship with someone nearby who you might not otherwise meet. (I so get the idea of workplace loneliness. You spend so much of your time at work that you can’t really postpone being human until your off hours!)

  35. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    I’m imaging the OP as being in her 20s and that would make me 15ish years older than her. I just can’t imagine that I couldn’t find something to talk about. She may be viewing people in that age range as “parental” but really, at this point you are just coworkers, on the same level of adult. You may not feel that way, but the more you chat with your coworkers, the less awkward it will feel.

    1. OP

      It’s not that I see them as parental, I see them as being in different stages of their lives. They own homes, cars, have kids.

      However, I have said this in other comments: I am likely interpreting our current lack of connection as a lack of potential connection. I just don’t know when I’ll get the opportunity to say “hey, I loved The Wire too!” since we never see each other in social settings.

      1. chickabiddy

        I’m middle-aged, which means I have “friendly acquaintances” 20 years younger than me and 20 years older than me. Yes, we are at different stages in our lives. I have house, car, kid. My younger friends are just starting out. My older friends are enjoying retirement and grandbabies. We still find things to talk about. Sometimes we talk about food/shopping/cooking (everybody eats, and most of us enjoy it!). Sometimes we talk about the weather, which yeah, is a trite conversation-starter, but often leads into someone talking about his garden or someone else talking about her weekend hike. Sometimes we talk about our pets.

          1. OP

            To reply to myself, I think people are assuming I’m around 23-25 and these people are 35-40, which is much more similar in age/generation. I’m 30 and they’re all 45+ with the VAST majority of them over 50. It’s higher ed :)

            There is a big gap between an early stage millennial and a 52 year old in terms of where we’re at in life. Some of them have kids that are closer in age to me than they are.

            1. Hrovitnir

              To be honest I feel like a lot of commentators are reading something into your statements that is not there, possibly based on the (incorrectly) perceived ages. I am a grad student: I’m 31, my peers are in their early to mid 20s and my supervisor is in her late 40s.

              I get on well with both groups (probably better with my supervisor and other older scientists I work with) but I still don’t perceive your statements to be “we can’t possibly relate to each other” because it really reads like the general vibe is “not interested” and the age is a possible contributor more than you’ve assumed they’re not interested based on age.

              I could be well off, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t try! But also don’t be convinced to totally ignore your gut. Again, not really helpful advice, and considering other viewpoints is useful, I just want to counter the theme I keep seeing come up.

              1. So Very Anonymous

                I want to chime in that I have this sense too. I’ve worked at places where I’ve hit it off with people at different ages, and at other places where I really, really didn’t, and it had everything to do with the culture of the workplaces than with anything hard and fast about age.

                I can think of one place where everyone in my department was older than me by at least 15 years, and I did NOT want to socialize with them, but that had everything to do with the specifics of the workplace. Had the culture been different, I would have been fine with socializing with them (while at the same time, because of the nature of that job, I really still would have needed to seek out people at my job level, which in that case would have meant people closer to my age). Sometimes we click with people and sometimes we don’t.

                I feel for you, though, OP, because I’ve been in your shoes. Since you’re in higher ed, are there ways that you could connect with people playing similar roles in other departments, or maybe at other local universities/schools? That’s what I tend to do when I’m in a situation like yours. In some ways I kind of am in your situation in that I feel isolated, but in my case it’s because my department’s culture is extremely unfriendly, and I worry that I’ve become unfriendly, too, as a result. People in other departments have been good options for me in that sense.

          2. chickabiddy

            People who are currently in their fifties have made it through their thirties, and probably remember them pretty well. They may relate better than you think. And while this would obviously be inappropriate in a work setting regardless of age, I’ll just say that my friends in their sixties and seventies tell much raunchier jokes and stories than many of my younger friends. Just because they are old enough to be your parents doesn’t mean they want to *be* your parents.

  36. Susan the BA

    Have you looked for organizations in your area that aren’t related to your employer and you could join? For example, in my city there is a very loosely organized weekday lunch ‘club’ that tries out new restaurants. It’s organized via message board, so someone will say ‘Who want to go to Teapot Tapas next Thursday?’ and anyone who’s interested goes. That gives people socialization during the workday that isn’t dependent on their particular office.

    Of course, if you have enough employees in your campus, you could also start something specific to your university – a biweekly lunch group, weekly walking group, book club, basically anything that’s an excuse to get a few people together. Even if it’s only a few days a month I think the anticipation of those events could make the days when you don’t have much interaction seem less lonely.

    1. OP

      I haven’t, that’s a good idea. There must be something around here. We’re quite a large city, so while there’s more people and almost certainly groups like that, tracking them down can be hard. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth putting in the effort, thank you!

  37. super anon

    I work at a university and my management association will often have free PD sessions and get to know you mixers where everyone can gather and meet new people. I’ve found it to be a good way to meet other people. I also attend all of the training sessions that I can, which give me an opportunity to meet new people as well.

  38. Person

    I would incorporate “walk throughs” into your managing style whenever possible, and/or take walking breaks (for health!) that allow you to pass by people and initiate conversations either about work or about small talk topics.

  39. Paul Z

    Here’re some recommendations, hopefully one of them would work out for you.

    1. Make friends with others who’re not even close to your department. In most companies I’ve worked for, even the most junior people in marketing will not be nervous around a director of IT, mostly because the director’s influence is so far away from their group, they can connect more as “people”. This obviously doesn’t work if you influence the whole company, such as COO/CEO, and to some less extent, HR/Finance.

    2. Socialize with your friends online – chat with them all day via messengers, whichever ones you’re all on.

    3. Have hobbies that can be done on a computer – whether it’s long TV series (think King of Thrones) or if it’s online chess. This takes away boredom during downtimes, not sure if that reduces loneliness.

  40. V

    I’m a fan of the “give people a reason to come to me” approach to making connections with colleagues. In the past, I’ve done this by hosting end-of-day happy hours in my office once every few weeks, where I supply the beer. (Obviously this works only if your company is OK with that). I have no doubt my colleagues would also flock to my office if I sent out an email announcing “I went crazy and bought a box of every kind of girl scout cookie, let’s do a test test at 4:30”.

    Alternatively, could you use some of your downtime to develop and teach a training course for a skill that some of the other managers near you would be interested in learning?

    1. OP

      Our University is used as a synonym for old and stodgy, there have been movies with that as the central premise about our Law program, so beer is right out.

      This is a good idea though, there has to be something that we can offer. Maybe we can utilize the attached computer lab space to offer some lunch time very casual computer classes, or some “just come ask questions!” sessions. I like that idea, and I already ‘own’ the lab space to do it, and since it’s developmental can likely get funding approved for pizza, and buy in from other departments to allow people to come. Thanks for the suggestion, I love this one!

  41. Jessica

    If you’re an IT director at a grad school, is there any quasi-social, quasi-training programs you could offer to the student body? Like a brown-bag lunch discussing some new software, or gathering info about what else IT could be doing for students? As a grad student myself, I would be appreciative of any outreach from the IT department — and if it was facilitated by a youngish, friendly staff person, some chit-chat and maybe even a friendship might naturally emerge.

    1. OP

      Our students are medical students and booked from 8-5, and often longer. They shove lunch down when they can and get back to clinical rotations. Our curriculum is very, very scripted. Every student in each class year has the same schedule.

    2. Wheezy Weasel

      +1 on that. Medical graduate students are going to fall into working with some of the most cantankerous medical record systems and clunky secured systems once they start clinical practice (I saw the same in veterinary school IT support) and some of them may recognize the value in learning this before they get job offers. Electronic medical record software might be outside the scope of your work, but you may be able to partner with a vendor to show some webinars in the lab or bring in an outside speaker.

      Also, Educause (higher ed IT professional organization) is always looking for people to do volunteer work on committees. In my last 3 institutions, it’s been well respected and a manager spending their time on this is a net positive.

      1. OP

        >Also, Educause (higher ed IT professional organization) is always looking for people to do volunteer work on committees. In my last 3 institutions, it’s been well respected and a manager spending their time on this is a net positive.

        Wonderful, I had no idea this existed! My boss would be supportive of this, she’s very big on anything collaborative and knowledge sharing related.

        RE the medical software, we have one, it does suck and is totally clunky. But we have an in house guy who “owns” that entire software.

      2. DoDah

        I did a breakout session at Educause a few years ago on IT Maturity Models. Educause is the BEST!

    3. librarian

      Also, I’m pretty sure any of the librarians might want to talk to you. It’s always good to have connections with IT, and you may see student issues that librarians would want to know about.

  42. cleo

    I think others have made similar suggestions, but one thing that might work is to try to start up a regular lunch or coffee break with people – as an introvert who needs some stimulation, I like to know that I have a standing Friday coffee date or whatever to look forward to.

  43. ChemMoose

    Try initiating a “Tea time/Coffee Break”. Our department (quite large, around 200 people) never socialized between individual groups or floors, but this department-wide (maybe building-wide in your case) Tea Time allowed everyone to take a break and socialize. Since we occupied two buildings and four floors, it was nice to meet everyone in the department. It was scheduled once a week for an hour but most people only stayed a half an hour. This scheduled social hour allowed everyone to feel like they could go talk to anyone and meet new people. I’ll also put in here that this was attended by staff, faculty, grad students, and some undergraduates who worked in the labs.

  44. Jesmlet

    I was feeling this same level of isolation with my last job. It was for a non-profit where we were required to meet with clients in the ‘community’. Said clients were all mentally ill and didn’t quite fill the socialization quota I felt I needed. I saw coworkers maybe once or twice a week for a few hours.

    I’m very introverted but I want my work environment to feel positive and friendly and I just wasn’t getting that with my last job. I ended up leaving after 1.5 years and am now working in a slightly different field but am infinitely happier given the time I get to spend with my coworkers. Work is much easier when you’re not miserable and alone all the time (unless that’s what you’re into).

  45. a.n.o.n.y.m.o.u.s.

    I haven’t read through all the comments yet, but I wanted to say that I’m in a somewhat similar situation. It’s easy to feel forgotten, disconnected, and lonely sometimes.
    Do you have any friends that work on the same area? I sometimes meet up for lunch with one of my friends whose company’s office is just down the road from mine. It helps me disengage from work for a little while and gives me some social interaction.

    I also use Google Hangouts to chat with one of my friends from the main office. She keeps me up to date on what is going on, which lets me feel a little more connected.

    I know you say that your work is specific to your location, but I’ve found that working a day in our central office every now and then really helps, even if it’s just one every month or two. I would encourage you to try to visit your colleagues occasionally, if possible.

    1. OP

      > Do you have any friends that work on the same area? I sometimes meet up for lunch with one of my friends whose company’s office is just down the road from mine. It helps me disengage from work for a little while and gives me some social interaction.

      I did! I had a bunch of them when I worked for Central Administration in the other campus. Here I don’t have any. I have one college friend who works 15 minutes by public transit away. That’s… not great but maybe we can meet in the middle. Thanks for the suggestion!

      >I know you say that your work is specific to your location, but I’ve found that working a day in our central office every now and then really helps, even if it’s just one every month or two. I would encourage you to try to visit your colleagues occasionally, if possible.

      They are a 30-45 minute shuttle ride, or an hour by transit away. The medical school I work at is in a different city than the central campus. I would need to take PTO to do this. I make an effort to see people every single time I have a meeting or class at the other campus though.

      1. a.n.o.n.y.m.o.u.s.

        15 minutes isn’t too bad! My friend and I will go out to eat sometimes, but more often than not, we’ll just bring our lunch from home and meet in a park.

        That’s unfortunate that you aren’t able to make it to the central office without using PTO. Maybe just try to find an excuse every now and then to go for a meeting, or some collaboration with a co-worker, or something similar. Because even if it’s not absolutely critical that everyone be together in person for a meeting, I’ve found that seeing my distant co-workers every now and then really does help us work together better.

      2. a.n.o.n.y.m.o.u.s.

        Also, maybe your friend has co-workers who would like to come along for lunch sometime. My friend and I have talked about her bringing one of her co-workers, but we haven’t done it yet.

  46. Elise

    Can you join a local professional organization or find other outside professional development activities in your area to join and go to physical meetings? Obviously industry or field specific, but also consider things like Toastmasters, Young Professionals or even a local alumni association. What about asking other department managers out to coffee once a week to discuss your mutual problems and problem-solve together? This is the type of situation where you will have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and really put yourself out there. People don’t think of other people they can’t see, so figure out what you need to do to make yourself (and your direct report) visible. If you aren’t already, encourage your direct to do the same thing.

  47. Cath in Canada

    Ugh, I feel your pain, OP: I had a similar situation in my last job. People there were pleasant enough, but just weirdly asocial – no-one ever went for coffee or lunch, and I sat all by myself in a corner outside the offices of people who traveled a lot.

    One thing that really helped me a bit was that I found a team of people doing similar work in a different department, and managed to get myself invited to their weekly meetings (I knew some of the people on that team from previous jobs, but was also able to make a strong case that comparing notes was a good idea). That one hour per week really seemed to help, because not only did I get to chat to people during that hour, but I also knew that they were working on similar stuff to me throughout the week, which weirdly made me feel less alone! I also started to get invited to their coffee and after-work beer outings.

    I ultimately ended up leaving to take my current job with that other team (I like to joke that they fostered me first before ultimately adopting me). I’ve gone from a job where I liked the people but not the work, to my last job where I loved the work but had no people, to my current job that combines the best of both worlds. That might end up being the best “exit plan” for you, too – but hopefully you can try and find your peeps while in your current job, like I did. You could also try to find out if there are any lunchtime webinars, seminars, hobby groups, or anything else like that going on. I’m sure people from other departments or orgs would be open to having you join them!

    1. Cath in Canada

      Ooh, or maybe there are some nearby daytime Meetup or networking groups? If you’re allowed a certain amount of downtime, a working professionals lunch group or something like that might be a good option.

  48. Marsha

    I am also in higher ed, and work in a basement in a graduate school separated from main campus. (Not as separated as yours, but separated nonetheless.) I am blessed with great colleagues both in my immediate vicinity and around my building, but I do feel your pain – there have been times when I have been a department of one in an isolated office. I, too, crave human interaction. A few suggestions that worked for me at that time in my life:

    1. Finding something specific to coalesce around can help create social time with other co-workers that you might otherwise be isolated from by age or level. Start a book club or a knitting group or something during lunch time – put up flyers that say you’ll be meeting the first Tuesday of every month (or whatever you pick) and that everyone on staff is welcome. Bring some baked treats the first time. Someone is likely to show, and these things have a way of growing. And having something to do that isn’t talking about work makes it less awkward to talk to people in different ‘stations” than you.

    2. One thing that unifies all my coworkers is a love for food. So in the summer, when higher ed tends to be quieter, I organize lunch outings. I send an email to everyone on staff and say “[this date and time], I will be at the reception desk leading the charge to go to [this restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try/already love]. Everyone will pay his or her own way, bring car keys if you’ve got them.” Some days two people join me, some days 20 people join me. I choose restaurants where we don’t need a reservation. I’ve met some people who work in departments I don’t normally interact with and it’s always a strange but totally fun bunch.

    3. Why not engage the students a bit? One of the things I do here when I’m craving interaction is I bring a card game called Set out to our lounge. It’s a game that can be played solitare or anyone can join in at any time. So I play, and people come over and join me and we chat and play a bit and then they go. I do that for 30-45 minutes and someone always stops by my table. It’s a nice chance to meet students (and even if they just stay long enough to find one set,that’s interaction for both of you), and sometimes staff and/or faculty stop by too.

    Hang in there – lots of great suggestions here!

  49. Adlib

    I am in a similar situation. I work on the 2nd floor of a building where I’m the only member of my department (the rest work in other cities). The rest of the floor is part of a team that is related to the work I do. The downstairs is all technical people who are in the field or out of office a lot. Despite this and everyone’s varying schedules, we’ve managed to be fairly social. We currently have a euchre tournament going where we play when people have time and keep score in the break room. The lady in the office next to me is now organizing weekly walks where we take some time to get out of the office when we have time (winter is coming, and we have no windows!). Occasionally we will have office lunches or cake for birthdays. I really enjoy this stuff a lot more than I thought I would! It helps with not feeling quite so alone. Maybe you can think of similar activities that would draw out some others who would like to participate and get out of their offices as well!

  50. Cat steals keyboard

    My team are quite dispersed and we have a few people who work from home some of the time. We have a weekly catch up which really helps – we could just look at each other’s calendars or email but it’s nice to actually sit and talk, is that sort of thing an option?

  51. WhiteBear

    First of all… OMG WHERE DO YOU WORK I MUST KNOW!!!!!! (jk)
    I’m an introvert just starting out in my career and I dream of a job where I am able to work independently and have limited social interactions, but of course most jobs for people in their late teens/early twenties involve lots of customer interaction.
    But enough about me, I’ve already seen a lot of good suggestions here, and all I can add is to definitely have a fulfilling social life outside of work (you again seem lucky in that there doesn’t seem to be a gossipy/cliquish work culture that plague many people that just want to punch in, do a good job, go home). If your workplace doesn’t offer any employee bonding/engagement programs (weekly breakfasts, get-togethers during office hours, special occasion celebrations) you could offer to be a leader/planner for some of these. Maybe if there was a facebook page for people in your building to use, you could let people know you’re going for coffee and would they like to join you/would they like anything? That way even if you just pickup for someone else you can have a quick chat with them at their desk. And I wouldn’t worry about not being BFFs with someone at work, I think what you’re looking for is just more opportunity for typical office chatter/social interactions which is much healthier. GOOD LUCK!

  52. Sungold

    Lurker here. If you work where I think you do, there is a lovely small art museum nearby with occasional events involving mingling and a larger world-class art museum whose programs include daily tours of highlights of the collection 10:30-11:30 am, and which also happens to have a cool outdoor installation right now. These could be good places to get social contact during a break if you have even a passing interest in art. There are also several nearby hospitals and small and large institutes of higher learning which host a variety of activities that are not overly academically specialized. I picked one of the hospital names at random, crossed it with “events” and came up with among other things a morning coffee later this month for young professionals to learn from a senior (non-medical) administrator about his career path and roles. Apologies if I got your location wrong – though even so, looking for activities at nearby non-affiliated organizations seems worthwhile.

    1. OP

      No, you’re definitely right. We’re one stop away from a world class museum, and I’ve never been to the smaller museum… trying to branch out to the squintillion colleges/hospitals is a good idea, I’ve assumed they were as insular as we were, but probably *nobody* is an insular as we are.

  53. specialist

    Computers in medicine have caused a huge upheaval over the last several years. Med students may be attracted to a program to discuss some of those intricacies. I don’t know if this would draw 1st and 2nd year students as much as it would clinical students and residents. You could probably attract a fair number of practicing physicians. The older workers might be attracted to a know-your-smart-phone type of thing. You could actually make some appointments with the different groups to see if there is any interest.

    I wish you were here. I could really use some help with Epic and I’m not getting it from my institution. I make dinner for people who help me.

  54. Michael Scott

    Here’s what I would do (and I suspect I live/work/study less than 1/2 mile then you, so hey!) Google “brown bag” and the name of your university, and you are bound to come up with something, even if not in your field. Could you ever work in the computer lab itself instead of your office? Walk around the newly opened natural park areas? Walk a few minutes and grab a coffee at Starbucks, Peets, or Dunkin Donuts etc. (yes, it will add to your budget, but consider it an investment in your daily sanity). Think about eating in a cafeteria in another school on your side of the river. Ask for a work from home day. Keep a bowl of candy on your desk or even a bag on your door and encourage other staff people to use it (I’ve seen this done by a high-level administrator in a large university system with some success). Walk farther to get water just for the faint chance of running into someone. Take a personal call now and then. Go to lunch and offer to grab some for someone. Always greet the security guy or other local service employees. Make small talk when possible. See if you can do a ride-share with someone at least for part of your commute. Sit on the same train, etc. as often as possible. Go to farmer’s markets over lunch. I like a lot of the other suggestions given here too. Truthfully, I’m not sure I could make it in the kind of setting you describe. But I think being open and purposeful in seeking human interaction with a variety of people will help in making it more tolerable.

  55. Laura

    If you like to bake, you can regularly bring in cookies, brownies, etc. and send an email to colleagues in your building encouraging them to stop by and help you eat them. I used to do this regularly with colleagues at a previous job and people who worked in other areas of the building would always come by to get whatever baked good I had that day. I love to bake so it was an easy way to do something I like doing in my free time and get people to come to me to socialize. As a plus, it helped me build up my relationships with colleagues which ended up benefiting my actual work as they had goodwill toward me when I eventually needed something from them (though this honestly was not the reason I did it).

  56. Kaitlyn

    I worked alone – like, alone-alone, with the occasional volunteer coming into the office, but otherwise by myself – for six months. I was the organization’s sole employee. The floor I worked on was empty except for me. I was totally self-directed. It was a very weird professional experience, and the loneliness and isolation did take a toll.

    However, I did have a few things to get me through the day. One was making a point of leaving the office, every single day. Just to grab a Coke or go for a walk, but have some human face time. On nice days, I would take a long lunch and go to the park and read – I figured if I couldn’t get human interaction, then nature was a good Plan B. Since I was so self-directed, I organized my day to certain tasks at certain times, and if I had time to kill before the allotted time slot, I’d go for a little walk around the building – check in with the mail room people, say hi to the building manager, etc. Our jobs had nothing in common, but they also worked alone, and it was a bit of camaraderie.

    Being social isn’t part of a job, per se, or even something most employers think about. What would happen if you talked to your own manager about this? Frame it in a way that says something like, “I feel challenged and engaged by my work, but working in isolation isn’t great for my morale. What are some of the things I should be tapping into to build relationships you’d like to see me build in this job?” If she says nothing or no-one, then offer to make a list of potential activities or outings that you could organize for your department that brings you into contact with more people, and see if she can approve them as part of your regular duties. Even if it’s networking or PD or even a manager’s circle, see what she says.

  57. Althea

    “My role involves some built in and allowed downtime, but there’s only so many hours I can spend watching training videos or reading AAM archives with my door closed.”

    It sounds to me like you have time. You know that the role would be improved by socialization; and you have downtime in which to improve the role via socialization. So, why are you hesitating to schedule some time at the main campus, or taking up other (more social) duties? This goes for you and your direct report.

    Then there is this: “We have very little in common, and little desire to socialize, but the younger employees don’t want to socialize with me either (it’s mutual), since they see me as management.”

    It really sounds like you are limiting yourself.

    How about planning some sessions for your coworkers about interesting IT issues (or whatever might be relevant), and bringing cookies or coffee each time? I bet you get attendance. And you do something to improve things at work, and you use the downtime you mention on something productive, and you are social. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to travel if the benefits outweigh the costs.

  58. Kaz

    Look for friends outside of work. The easiest way to make friends is to participate in an activity that compels you to interact with others. For example, outside of work, play some sort of team sport, join a book club, learn a foreign language, take up writing (poetry/short stories) and seek input from other writers. Work can in any case be a difficult place to make friends. Regardless of hierarchy, maintaining professionalism is important at work and this can get in the way of friendship.

    If you absolutely must make friends at work with someone who is your subordinate, be sure to have some clear boundaries. There is friend-time outside of work, and work-time at work. This can still wreck havoc on your working relationship so it is obviously not recommended.

  59. Tennessee INFP

    Late to the party here OP – but you sound like you might be extroverted and are energized by interaction. I am the exact opposite and I find myself incredibly jealous of your quiet, uninterrupted work space. I work in customer service and am constantly interrupted all day and it’s exhausting. Perhaps thinking about it in those terms, “hey it could be worse, I could be interrupted all the time all day” could help.

  60. Swimmergirl

    At my last position, I felt incredibly isolated, and I was often alone in our office for several hours a day. Listening to music helped to raise my spirits, and if I was bored, I could take a few minutes to read about artists or create a playlist. Even on cold days, I took an hour for lunch and walked around town. Getting sunshine and taking a break from my computer screen really helped.

  61. Em Too

    Not sure how far phone calls would go, but you seem to have colleagues in the other campus working on similar things. Would it be useful to schedule regular catch-ups to compare notes on work matters, which might lead to some non-work discussions too? Skype them so you actually see a face? Or just make a point of picking up the phone whenever you hear of something vaguely relevant?

  62. I'll need to be anonymous for this one

    “My new office is a converted closet which opens to a public space”

    Are you me?

    About a year ago I got moved from my office in the back area of the building into a storage closet/technical room that opens into a public room. (Yes, I keep the door always locked). A couple of times daily other staff need access to the room for brief technical reasons.

    Initially I was furious at this professional snub (have you seen “Office Space”?) but I’ve grown to really like the isolation – I don’t get bothered by random office chit-chatters, for example.

    I could probably only wander into the office a couple of times per week, perhaps making sure that I walk by offices and be seen, and spend the rest of the week working from home, were I of such an inclination.

    I, however am a strong introvert, so your mileage may differ.

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