should I put more effort into making friends at work?

A reader writes:

I started at my company almost five years ago. I’m married and was pregnant when I started, and though I worked full-time and more than satisfied my boss, I didn’t get along well with many of the other women on my team who were in different life stages and had different work ethics than myself. There was just no personal chemistry. After having my baby and coming back to the office, my boss gave me a promotion and created a role just for me, managing a team of six.

The whole time I’ve been here, I’ve had the attitude of “I’m here to work, not make friends” and have kept only civil work relationships with most of my coworkers. This has been particularly necessary because I’m managing people; I know that it would be unprofessional of me to show personal preferences for people or be too honest about what I really think on some work issues or about what I do outside of work.

I’ve definitely felt excluded from the cliques and friendly groups, and have known for a few years that I’m not well liked. I don’t get invited to lunch, or to people’s happy hours, to weddings, or other events when other coworkers are. People go on vacation and bring back souvenirs for everyone but me. I don’t like it, but it’s not something that keeps me up at night. I do have the respect of and positive work relationships with my boss and other department managers, which I try to think of as more important.

But I’m now questioning whether I should have put more effort into making friends at work. I sometimes feel that my lack of friendship with people I’ve worked with for five years is holding me back in collaboration and general inclusion. I don’t know if it’s too late to change direction. I otherwise like my job and the company I work for, but I do feel lonely sometimes and question whether it would be worth starting fresh somewhere else, along with the benefits of maturing my career by moving on to something new and a little more challenging (I’m in my early 30’s).

Should I make friends or continue keeping to myself?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 221 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    I continue to be sort of mystified by the mindset that you either have to be All Business or BFFs with your coworkers. I guess I like my coworkers, at least to the extent that I know them, and we’re friendly at work, but I don’t know tons about their personal lives and we don’t hang out outside of work. It doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing–you can be friendly without investing a lot of extra energy here.

    And, yeah, if you deliberately keep them at arm’s length, you’re going to get shut out. It’s almost less work to be baseline personable then to keep trying to maintain that much distance.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t generally hang out with ex-coworkers, either. I’m friends with one ex-coworker because we legitimately have a lot in common, but I think she’s the only ex-coworker for whom I even have contact information. Nobody is asking you to be Friends For Life.

    2. Allonge*

      Yes, this ‘total separation between My Life and work’ is… I don’t even know how that works. Sure, we all have things we don’t share or cannot share about ourselves, but ‘I like this bakery’ or ‘gosh the inflation’ or ‘check out this exhibition in local museum, it’s awesome’ is not some deep dark secret that you need to hold separate from the people you spend 8+ hours with. Similarly, listening to people talk about how their kid got a special prize at science fair is not that much of a hardship.

      And this is not making friends, either! Even work-friends require a lot more investment. But share a little, ask a little.

    3. Quinalla*

      Agreed, I live mostly in the middle ground and I think most do. I have probably 2-3 actual friends that started as work friendships, most everyone else I’m warm to, we have fun at work, but they are not friend-friends. But yeah, I too don’t understand not treating people at work at least as warmly as you would a random stranger you might stand next to in line and chat with for 5-10 minutes or a parent of a kid’s friend that you would never talk to otherwise. It doesn’t have to be a deep relationship, it’s ok for it to be a casual warm relationship that neither of you would continue when one or the other moves on to a different job.

      I think the reverse of this is people that move onto a new job and can’t figure out what none of their former friends at work are talking to them anymore. To me this is also strange, if you were sort of that casual warm relationship, then I don’t expect that to continue past work without some sort of common reason to talk. If I see them at a conference, I will chat and be friendly and warm and its great, but I’m not texting them every day and inviting them over – again, not friend-friends.

      It’s ok to set different limits of what you are ok sharing at work than others, but you can be at I’m chatting for 5-10 with basically a stranger level of warmth to anyone at work without much effort. Talk about the weather, sportsball, TV/movies, cool local restaurants/museums/events, etc. Plenty of things you can talk about without revealing anything even a little deep about yourself :)

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly! I have great relationships with a lot of my coworkers, and I don’t hang out with any of them outside of work.

        It’s not about “hanging out”- it’s about cultivating trust and mutual respect. It’s respecting them as a human and as a worker; it’s cheering their strengths while supporting their growth areas (aka weaknesses); it’s them knowing that you’ll be as generous with your praise as you are with your critiques; they can trust you. I can disagree with someone and still respect them! You can manage someone and not be friends and still respect them! I’ve even had to manage out people that I liked and respected because they just weren’t hitting the metrics that they needed to.

    4. LB*

      Yes, it seems likely that OP is missing out on recommendations from coworkers because of this. It’s a very weird no-middle-ground viewpoint, the people who won’t say “good morning” to people and make three sentences of light conversation because they’re “here to get the job done”. Those aren’t people going to get the warmest of commendations after the fact.

    5. gbca*

      I completely agree. I’m very warm and friendly with my coworkers and know the basics of their personal lives (marital status, kids, big hobbies), but we don’t hang out outside of work and we don’t dive deep into personal lives. For instance we have a lot of foodies and movie buffs at work, so when we have lunch together conversations often revolve around those topics. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    6. Hrodvitnir*

      100% this. So glad this is the first comment. I am always curious to know how letter writers writing in around this topic comport themselves – though I feel I can imagine this person being… fine, but a little cold.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, there is *so* much space between being friends with people at work and being “civil.”

    8. T*

      I will tell you that in 30 years of work I have not made a single friend at work. And I don’t want to either.

      When I am working I am working. I do not socialize by talking family or anything else. I am simply quiet and efficient in my job. Now I am not rude, I am personable and polite. But I never ever talk about myself in any way.

      You see, I am what today you would call being on the spectrum. We just didn’t call it that back then. I have significant and extremely real reasons to behave exactly as I do. Ironically many coworkers seem to have confidence in me since they know I will not disclose things I hear in confidence to anyone. Go figure.

      In my opinion I have lost absolutely nothing by being this way, and simply put, it isn’t worth changing now at my age. Not do I have a reason to do so.

      I would not dream of commenting on the way anyone else acts. How I act is good for and works for Me alone.

      However, for the OP. It seems to me that if you feel you are unhappy or have lost something, then look into that for yourself. It is ok to change if you want to.

      It is changing in a way that makes you uncomfortable simply to meet the expectations of others that is bad.

    9. allathian*

      Yeah, me too. I’m friendly with the vast majority of my coworkers, but I’m not currently friend-friends with any of them. During the 15 years that I’ve been at my current job, I’ve had one work-friend graduate into a friend-friend who had my personal contact info. Now that she’s been retired for about 5 years, we exchange e-cards for the holidays.

      I enjoy my work friendships when they happen spontaneously, that is, through mutual interest. I don’t go out of my way to try and make friends at work, though.

  2. Rick*

    I can’t rrad your reply, since you have to subscribe to New Yorker.

    Anyway, you shouldn’t have to make friends at work. You’re there to earn a living, not make friends. If you do make friends, great. Of not, don’t lose sleep over it. The cliques sound like they are drama magnets anyway.

    1. elizabeth*

      Alison is talking about maintaining a certain level of warmth and friendliness to foster good work relationships, which she distinguishes from being friends.

    2. Seashell*

      Removed – please don’t post ways to get around paywalls. They are how I and other writers get paid for our work. – Alison

          1. NotAPotato*

            Not as relevant to this particular article, but it’s also important to remember that the model of ad supported everything also makes it hard to pay for journalism that covers topics that aren’t good for brand safety, which can be really important topics (e.g. covid).

            1. Le Sigh*

              To that point, it usually isn’t enough money anyway (setting aside your very good point). Plenty of newspapers have tried the ads-only model. It didn’t work and a lot more sites are using paywalls for that exact reason.

        1. Susana*

          Do you work for free? Do you pay for groceries, electricity, your car?
          I have been just stunned at the number of people who think they don’t have to pay for m work as a writer. And no, advertising does not cover the costs of doing business – which includes the cost of paying the people who write.

    3. A Simple Matter*

      You’re there to earn a living, not make friends.

      Except that if you expect to advance in your career, those work friends will be valuable networking contacts in five years, when they’ve moved on to other companies.

      Your mindset is that of someone looking for a job, not a career. If that fits you, great, but understand you’re closing off options in the future.

    4. Jackalope*

      The comment about “drama magnets” is really projecting here. From what I can see, the “cliques and friendly groups” do things like… have lunch and happy hour together, go to each other’s weddings, buy each other small souvenirs…. None of that seems like high drama to me.

      1. Jeff*

        Yeah. As a general rule, people who complain that they can’t have friends because friendships have “too much drama” are making excuses for their own shortcomings.

      2. Peter*

        I chuckled at this but it’s only amusing because you’re right. Letters like this make me wonder how often people who complain about others getting ahead via ‘office politics’ are actually just describing things like this. The phrase summons images of mini Frank Underwoods. But what if they do well in their careers because they are consistently pleasant to work with, they’re helpful to other teams even when they don’t absolutely have to be, they build good relationships that help the wider organisation and so on?

        The letter writer doesn’t say that and seems far too aware to do so, but I wonder about others.

    5. Beth*

      You don’t need to be best friends with all your coworkers, but life is better when you make space for some warmth in it. My experience of my neighborhood is better when I take two minutes to say hi to my neighbors, ask how their day is going, and pet their dog before I continue to where I’m going. My experience at work is better when I smile at my coworkers, say good morning when I get in, and take five minutes in the break room to commiserate over that pain-in-the-ass project they’re working on. You don’t have to be close friends to be friendly.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “You don’t need to be best friends with all your coworkers, but life is better when you make space for some warmth in it.”

        I agree! My last boss was so cold. She literally was not willing to take 5 minutes out of her day to ask a question about my life or be friendly in any way. I think she didn’t see the point. But, man, was she unpleasant to work with! I do think people at work – and leaders especially – should take the time to show a little interest in their co-workers as people. Sometimes it does feel like work you don’t want to do. But it’s worth the investment, and it truly only takes a few minutes out of your day.

    6. Peppermint Moksha*

      You may be there to earn a living, but there’s a middle ground to find in there. Everyone is a potential resource to help you get something done if you get to know what someone is good at in general, not just what’s on their job description. By extension if you know who they’ve worked with, they can help give you a handle on how to approach others. It’s basic networking.

    7. LB*

      It’s way more drama-queeny to eschew the basics of warm friendliness because you’re too Serious and Focused to be a chill person who’s decent to be around all day.

  3. TimeToo*

    Oooh, as someone that tends to have pretty strict boundaries around my work life and my life life and who is a recently-ish promoted manager, this hit home to me. I do really like Alison’s response, though, especially the distinction between “warmth” and “friendship.” I think it’s a line I’ve managed to walk, as I’d say that I am well-liked by my coworkers and get invited to happy hours, etc. I find it takes a bit of ongoing calibration and judgement, and making sure that, when I have an opportunity to be friendly, or rather, *warm,* and I don’t take that opportunity, that it’s for a real reason (it’s an inappropriate topic, I don’t want someone knowing that about me, we don’t have a lot of time and need to talk about business) and not just an arbitrary decision because I don’t feel like it.

  4. Essentially Cheesy*

    I have been in a similar spot at my current position (have held it for over 16 years). I had previously been so busy with an old boss’s busy work that I had a hard time with even water cooler chit-chat. His retirement did help but there was definitely a social gap! I felt like I was not familiar with many of my coworkers and I also didn’t enjoy that feeling.

    There are simple things that I’m trying to participate in. One thing is a Fantasy Football league run by a coworker. It’s something that I’m completely unfamiliar with but it doesn’t take a lot of skill – paying attention is more important than anything else. This won’t work for everyone but there are simple low pressure things like that. Now is a good time of the year to think about Cookie Exchanges, Secret Santa Swaps, maybe holiday potlucks? (Don’t worry about Hawaiian rolls, lol.) I’m sure that there are water cooler/break room chit-chat or other very low-investment things that anyone can participate in.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I think this is good actionable advice.

      I agree with another poster up thread a bit that there’s a huge spectrum of work chumminess I’ve worked with everything from softball leagues and after hours socializing to go in get your work done and don’t talk to anyone. Most places are in between those two points.

      I like your idea of low stakes ways to interact with your coworkers. Yes, sports fantasy leagues, sports brackets, and other things take so little effort and no knowledge to participate in. Other things can be even easier; asking someone how their weekend/kids/pets are, commenting on the weather, ask if anyone has any good netflix recommendations, etc.

      1. Antilles*

        Other things can be even easier; asking someone how their weekend/kids/pets are, commenting on the weather, ask if anyone has any good netflix recommendations, etc.
        The easiest way to do this is to simply ask a question or two about them every so often – “how was your vacation” when someone returns from PTO, “any fun plans for [upcoming holiday]”, etc. Then you politely listen for 60 seconds, make a generic appropriate comment like “oh that sounds cool!” and leave it at that.

        1. Inkhorn*

          …though only ask “How was your vacation?” if you know for certain they WERE on vacation, don’t just assume if they had a block of leave they must have been doing something fun. Could be very awkward if they were dealing with a personal crisis instead.

          1. Calliope*

            This is one of those things that discourages people from basic pleasantries. Most people will signal if they’re on a medical leave they don’t want to talk about. You don’t need to be paralyzed with fear to ask about someone’s long weekend. “Hope you were able to do something fun” is a good phrase as is “oh I hope you were able to relax!”

            1. marvin*

              Yeah, I had a bunch of people assume I was on vacation at times when I was on bereavement leave or medical leave, and it wasn’t a big deal. I generally corrected it just so there wasn’t misinformation spreading around and we moved on. I think it’s okay to introduce the spectre of negativity in the office as long as you aren’t going to be weird about it.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, I agree with you. It’s human to make assumptions about people when you talk, and if you make the wrong assumption, to apologize for any awkwardness. We shouldn’t be so afraid of any negative emotions seeping to the workplace that we stop being human. Life happens, and it includes negative things.

    2. Anonymous*

      I know nothing about football and participate in the Fantasy Football League because, Hey, someone has to be last.
      One week I came in first. There was an outcry when I admitted that I rank teams by how much I want to vacation there.

      1. Essentially Cheesy*

        Exactly. Being involved in this league gives a bunch of us something to discuss that isn’t necessarily super personal. It’s totally random since any given player can have awesome or awful games so it’s pretty low stakes except for possible winner vs loser type stuff.

        My involvement was totally coincidental as the organizer was talking to someone else about possibly needing members for the league. I walked by and spoke up and said, if you need someone, let me know. And it’s worked out very nicely so far. (I also have random high points but I’m generally in the middle of the league, for now. Probably end up last, lol.)

  5. ecnaseener*

    Interesting! Reading the letter I identified with the writer, but then reading Alison’s response I think I fall in the middle ground she described.

    I just don’t have my make-friends brain and my work brain on at the same time. It’s always been like that for me, I almost never made friends in class at school or anything. I wouldn’t dream of exchanging souvenirs or wedding invitations with anyone at work. One coworker and I have some mutual friends so we’ve hung out outside of work, but I can’t fully relax around her.

    BUT – I’ll happily chitchat and joke around with coworkers. And I make a concerted effort to be warm in my communications because I know that matters. I can’t tell from the letter if that’s also true for LW.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I’m glad commenters are identifying with the LW. I was a bit confused. It sounds like OP pro-actively decided she didn’t like these other coworkers, particularly the women, and proceeded that way. But now she isn’t enjoying feeling iced out, which was … a pretty predictable outcome of a “not here to make friends” attitude?

      1. Smithy*

        For years and years I had jobs where I just wasn’t really around peers or even co-workers, so it made the end result of having no friends not seem personal. Either regarding my character or my interactions with colleagues. I’d say I was always friendly, but it was always in interactions where the potential of friendship was never in question.

        So when I did have a job that was more social and did have that dynamic, emotionally I found it disorienting at first. Similar to being new in high school and wanting to make friends but also worried about coming off wrong.

        All to say, I empathize with not minding the lack of work-friends in one stage of a job where they weren’t going to be ‘your people’ – but then once that changes, and maybe you’d like to be friends, suddenly feeling a bit more shy and awkward. What I found out was that as close as relationships might have appeared, people really weren’t wedding party bff close and simply by starting to engage more – those workplace relationships and opportunities became available.

      2. Erie*

        I identify strongly with the LW because I find it really tough to make friends. After three years of graduate school I still don’t have close friends there – like no one who’s ever been to my apartment or knows about my relationship with my sister, for example. And it’s not for lack of trying – I strike up conversations everywhere I go; I can just never get past the surface level.

        I know that LW’s situation is a bit different in that she “chose” this by being standoffish, but… part of me sort of wonders if that’s something she’s telling herself because she was a little reluctant to put herself out there and make friends, or isn’t that good at it, and decided that “I choose this” is a better story than “nobody at work seems to like me”.

        For those of us who don’t make friends easily, it can be pretty frustrating to hear people talk about just falling into friendships or act like it’s something that “just happens”. Of course she doesn’t like feeling iced out, but not all of us can put forth what seems like a herculean effort to build a circle of friends, only to start over when you leave that job, and never really be successful at it. (If I sound bitter, yeah, that’s kind of what having this experience repeatedly will do.)

      3. Sleeve+McQueen*

        Yeah, I am wondering if LW has been… more hostile than neutral? I mean you can not be close enough to warrant the wedding invite without being excluded from things that happen in the office.

    2. ASW*

      I had the same reaction. Not invited to happy hours or weddings? Great! I don’t want to go to those things anyway and not being invited is a whole lot better than having to come up with an excuse for why I can’t go. And it would never occur to me to bring souvenirs for my coworkers. The only reason I get my team members Christmas gifts is because my first December at this job, I was the only one who didn’t.

      But, I feel very confident that if you were to ask anyone I work with, they would say that I’m friendly and generally pleasant to work with.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Yeah, the only time I’ve brought something back for a workmate was when I was visiting her country of origin and asked if there were any particular treats she missed. Then I got a few goodies for the staff room. But I’m not buying snow globes for the office!

  6. ElizabethJane*

    I’ve been close friends with several coworkers and had a friendly working relationship with others. I am getting hints of a superiority complex from the LW (work ethic comment, that it’s more important to be liked by managers) and I’d hazard a guess that that’s what’s contributing to being shut out more than the lack of small talk.

    1. Anya Last Nerve*

      I met my husband at work. My maid of honor was someone I met at a prior job. I am still close friends with former coworkers who live in other countries now. I have a demanding career with long hours, where am I supposed to meet other people with similar interests to mine? But yeah I feel like OP is throwing shade at those of us who actually (gasp!) like the people they work with and form genuine personal connections.

    2. Annie Mouse*

      Agree. The “I’m here to work, not make friends” person almost always seems to be someone who is making enemies. We don’t need to be BFFs with our coworkers, but being friendly and developing relationships with coworkers is part of the job for most people. Colleagues at all levels, not just leaders. I can’t imagine a manager that 1) isn’t friendly with me and 2) doesn’t have the kind of relationships around the company to help remove obstacles for the team.

      1. lyngend (canada)*

        I was like that at my last job, but I was also trying to change from a TMI person to someone who can keep their lips zipped about stuff other’s don’t really care about.
        The main issue that also caused me to be like this was WFH where all chat was monitored, and absolutely discouraged, since you should always only be thinking about your customers. I was friendly and tried to engage, but not nearly as much as at previous jobs or my current job. (and to an extent, I miss it, because it’s easier not to verbal dump stuff I’m trying not to by text)

      2. Manzanita*

        So, I’m definitely one of those “I’m here to work” people, but it’s not because I don’t like the people I work with. They’re great, interesting, talented people! It’s just that, like ecnaseener said above, I have a hard time keeping my work brain and my friends brain on at the same time. (This extends to people I’m already friends with. When my partner and I were both working from home, I got irritated when he wanted to talk to me during breaks.) I hope I’m doing better at this than the LW, because I do try to be very friendly and engaging at work (big smiles and hellos, asking about vacations, etc.). But generally I find non-work-related conversations at work tiring and distracting, and people can probably tell.

        But there’s an expectation at my workplace that everyone will invest a lot of time and energy into the social side of things in order to be seen as part of the team, and if you’re not doing that, it’s much harder to get things done effectively and remove obstacles, like Annie Mouse said. I never feel like I’m doing enough.

    3. Random Biter*

      Yeah, I kinda got a frisson of unapproachable in the OP. Maybe I’ve just been lucky in some of my past employment (where my food service peeps?), I’ve made some lifelong friends including a BFF that’s more like a sister than a friend.

      1. Erie*

        Is it really that helpful to respond to “help, none of my coworkers like me” with “well, my coworkers seem to love me! I have lifelong friends! sounds like you’re the problem”?

        It is wonderful that you have found lifelong friends at work, but it’s not actionable for LW and it’s frankly in poor taste. Loneliness is probably one of the top five worst feelings in the world.

        1. Eirene*

          Right, but when you do it to yourself, that sort of does mean you’re the problem here — what other common denominator is there? And I say this as someone who has been a real jerk in my personal life in the (thankfully distant) past. You have to make a change if you want things to change, and no amount of sympathy from commenters on the internet will make that actionable.

    4. hot buttered anon*

      There is a manager like this where I work, and he’s mentioned being unliked to another manager at his level. No kidding, dude, when you make a point of mentioning your (elevated)place in the hierarchy and telling direct reports that ‘work isn’t supposed to be fun’ etc.
      Mansplainy, micromanagey, kiss-up/kick-down mentality. Yeah, no one likes you.

    5. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m the same way. I’ve made good friends at work (as in one of them was a bridesmaid in my wedding) and I’ve made good connections at work. Right now I’m on a team that I really enjoy working with. We joke around at work, talk about non-work stuff sometimes, and have a good rapport, but we’re not making brunch plans or anything.

      1. Storm in a teapot*

        I totally agree. I’ve got some close friends who are ex-colleagues from my first job after graduation where we were all juniors together. My last place I have a few people I am friends with still but not especially close and when we do meet (always as a group and maybe 2-3 times a year) a lot of the conversation is about our profession.
        My current workplace culture is super friendly I work with a lot of people at a more similar place in life to myself and have got a few people I know will stay friends even after we no longer work together, others I am friendly with.
        OP this doesn’t mean that those of us who value social interaction work less. I think there was a post from a few weeks ago about being a ‘relationship’ focused person at work vs task focused. Really interesting reading and it may hep you better understand the dynamic you’re experiencing.

    6. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, the comments about work ethic and particularly the way they seemed only aimed at the women in the office gave me that vibe about OP (you can’t be friendly with male coworkers? but you’re “not one of those girls?”). And I don’t really see how being married and having a baby has much to do with why she couldn’t be friendly, but it might be adding to her sense of superiority.

      1. AsPerElaine*

        I can see that LW maybe felt like she was in a completely different place in her life than the other women — if she’s 32 now (“early thirties”) she had the baby at 27 or 28. I would hope that I, at 27, could have been friends with a peer with a new baby, but I can definitely see that my “first years of living on my own with roommates” stage of life, and the sorts of things I did for fun, might have felt like a different planet to that hypothetical coworker.

        That might tie into the comments about work ethic, if the other young women in the office were living up their 20’s and she was settling down to making a life for her family.

        That said, I do agree with you that in a vacuum, the work ethic stuff feels kind of judgy.

        1. Smithy*

          I completely agree with this. I also think the ages of 26-29 can manage to have people with a pretty wide range of life experiences and desires. Some people will still be single/living with roommates or have younger partners or partners who are in grad school, and so living one kind of life. And then you have others who by that age have taken on a far greater level of responsibility and stability in their personal life.

          I think its possible that what they enjoyed socially wasn’t the OP’s speed – and they may have also had less than stellar workplace behavior. But I think the OP might still benefit from mentally making peace with what a middle path socially might look like. Because there are 101 ways our coworkers won’t gel with us personally AND professionally, and having a warm and friendly relationship can still be a benefit.

          1. Antony-mouse*

            See I disagree with this. I’m one of only few people in my 20s fresh out of uni and living with my parents at my job and almost all my colleague have children around my age. I’d say we’re at completely different stages in our lives. This hasn’t stopped me from making good friends with some of them.

            1. Smithy*

              Oh, I think it’s entirely possible and also genuinely beneficial to do that at work.

              I guess my point was more about having some empathy for the OP not getting along with her coworkers. However, even when you don’t get along with someone on a social level and are also irritated by their performance at work – I think it’s both possible and helpful to still be friendly to them and to not lump those factors together.

              If a coworker is a young partier and does poor data entry, it’s fine to not like them on a personal or professional level. But lumping those traits together tends to magnify the dislike and can breed assumptions that aren’t helpful in the long run. You may not enjoy going out as much as they do, but might actually enjoy similar music or are both into beer and now at least have something to pleasantly chat about if you’re sharing an elevator. Their bad data entry may be the result of currently having a poor supervisor or bad onboarding and they’re looking to connect with other colleagues to be able to have other resources to ask questions to and that’s why they seem overly familiar and chatty. They could also just be loud, sloppy and forever irritating. But finding space to be friendly to people who we’re never gonna love socially and also don’t love the quality of their work product is usually more helpful in the long run.

      2. Flowers*

        I didn’t get “NLOG” vibes at all. She mentioned being pregnant & married because generally (emphasis on generally) people with spouses/kids tend to have less time to spend with coworkers outside of work. maybe she thought being friendly meant going to happy hours or chatting etc outside of work hours? If it’s a small office, it’s very easy to find you have nothing in common with people who talk about things that aren’t relevant to your life.

        Things definitely do change with time and life stages – a few years ago before I had my daughter I would go to all the work events, happy hours etc. majority of the staff at the time were single and early on in their careers. At my current job, that’s a hard NO. I like most of the ppl here and I get along with everyone (I like to think?) but my friendliness is limited to chatting at work when it’s appropriate.

    7. LawLady*

      Yes though I may just be responding to the “not here to make friends” which is like a reality tv trope at this point.

      1. snarkfox*

        “I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to be America’s Next Top Model.”

        (that’s all I ever think about when I hear someone say “I’m not here to make friends).

      2. Jackie Straw from Wichita*

        I literally said aloud, “This isn’t Survivor,” as I read that part. I’m friendly with coworkers but not friends with them. There’s a difference and a pretty big range of behaviors between the two.

    8. snarkfox*

      Yeah, and it was a bit alarming that she specifically doesn’t get along with other *women* there, unless it’s an office of all-women.

      The way she said “different life stages” reminds me of people who drop all their friends when they get married or have a kid because they couldn’t possibly be friends with a single person!

      But I could be wrong, and it’s also possible they were older women being super judgey of her as a mother or something. but idk, OP just gave me bad vibes. And if the other women are so awful, why do you want to be invited to stuff now?

    9. LB*

      People often like to attribute their shortcomings to an excess of their strengths instead – it’s not, “I struggle to be friendly at work” it’s, “I’m just so hardworking that I simply can’t be bothered to [thing that has nothing to do with how hardworking you are or aren’t]!”

      1. flowers*

        This is so incredibly demeaning, as are other comments aimed at the LW.

        She wrote in about a situation as she gauges it, wondering if she’s made mistakes in how she engages with her co-workers. Sneering and scorning her is so beyond wrong, and the kind of thing that would keep other people from writing in. I mean, why bother writing in, when some commenters are going to be so demoralizing? I thought that kind of thing wasn’t allowed on this forum. My mistake.

        LW, start being warm with and curious about one person, and see where it gets you. Then you can move on to the next person, and so on. Good luck to you, and good for you for being honest with yourself.

  7. Anon for this*

    I find this interesting and consistent with many of the comments I see here about not making friends at work. If you want to be all business at work and not make any friends, then it seems odd when you are upset that you have no friends at work. I’m always confused by this approach- I spend most of my waking hours at work so I like to act like my authentic human self. I like to connect with other people about their authentic human selves. I currently have a manger who is all work and doesn’t approach her directs as humans and frankly, it sucks. The other downside of not making any friends at work is that it will 100% impact your career advancement. I have never seen someone that is disliked by everyone advance but I’ve seen plenty of incompetent but well-liked people shoot to the top.

    1. ...*

      I’m also always interested in what people consider “making friends” vs. “being all-business” or “being here for work.”

      I’m in semi-regular team meetings, and it’s very common for the first few minutes as everyone trickles in to chat about vacations, or favorite restaurants, or the local traffic drama of the week or whatnot, which is the same type of chit-chat that precedes friendship, but none of us are pursuing friendship with each other – we’re being friendly, which I’d argue, is part of our jobs. We have to have at at least neutral to preferably affable relationships with each other to be on a team together. That grey zone seems to sometimes elude the very anti-small-talk commentariat here

      1. ...*

        Adding on to myself to acknowledge that the root of the issue here is calibrating your “at least neutral” to your office’s version of “at least neutral.” Here, that would be able to small talk and lightly banter at the beginning of a meeting even if you never seek each other out for social coffee breaks. I suspect that these write-ins are from people who would want to define “at least neutral” to what my office would consider to a chillier, “we’ve never had a blatantly negative interaction”

        1. elizabeth*

          It was huge adjustment to me when I went from an office with a downright chilly baseline to one where people were warmer. For example, it’s generally expected that you will greet someone with a comment or question about the weekend or holiday if you email them, which is something I had to get used to because I’m used to formatting emails with “Hello Name, [Work request.] Thanks, My Name.”

          1. ...*

            I feel you! My two previous workplaces had a VERY “warm” baseline, to the point that this small-talk in meetings only has felt like a chilly downgrade. It’s something I recognize and can articulate to myself – this is an acceptable level of work interaction, and of course I don’t need people to want to talk all day – but there is a gut level “Omg do these people actually secretly dislike me because they don’t want to talk more?” that I need to damp down occasionally. I can totally understand why the flip side might make someone squirm and feel like “too much” if it’s not what they’re calibrated to

        2. Cringing 24/7*

          Yes, I read OP’s neutral as a bit chilly and possibly noticeably avoidant. I may have been (possibly wrongly) thrown by the wording “I didn’t get along well with many of the other women on my team who were in different life stages and had different work ethics than myself.” I don’t know why that just read as… judgmental seems too harsh a word, but like a step down from that, possibly?

          1. ...*

            I wasn’t able to log in and read the article here but that strikes me as off as well. I’ve almost never (maybe actually never?) worked with people predominantly “in the same life stage” as me. What does “in the same life stage” even mean, when you really dig in? I don’t have kids, so it some ways I blend better with a younger crowd, but I lost a parent to a prolonged illness when I was still in college, so I find myself being the shoulder to lean on for older-than-me friends who are experiencing end-of-life caretaking & parental loss for the first time – something most of my younger friends (thankfully!) haven’t experienced yet.

            Also, all that aside, to a certain extent what does “in the same life stage” even matter? My warmest work friend currently is in a very different bracket than me in most social aspects – marriage status, parent status, homeowner status, etc. etc. etc., but we’re able to chat about joint projects and similar hobbies (she runs, I bike) enough to be on very friendly office terms even without living the same type of life outside of work

            1. Chilipepper Attitude*

              I’ve seen letters here before about the “different life stages” – someone is in her 20s and all the other women are in their 40s and up and the two don’t seem to be able to do small chat together. It can be a thing for some.

            2. Sparkle llama*

              I found it rather lonely when I started a new job and out of the 50+ people only two were really anywhere near my age (I was mid 20s and almost everyone was 40+). With time though I built relationships with other people and now that we have had some turnover there are more younger people but I don’t think I am more likely to be work friends with the younger people anymore than other people.

          2. Allonge*

            Whenever I notice myself getting this kind of judgey, I try to make an effort to ask open questions about the kids / family issues / hobbies / whatever non-work priority I feel like ‘it’s too much’ about.

            Almost inevitably I learn something new that helps me cross that bridge and the other person gets to talk about something important to them, so it’s a win-win. Worst case scenario I file the info under something like ‘Ruby is just waaay too much into cats for me, good thing this has no impact on me’ and move on. Whatever, my hobbies are also weird to other people.

            1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              That’s good. Most people like talking about themselves and will open up that way. Also you don’t have to reveal as much about yourself

            2. snarkfox*

              My closest colleague shows me pictures of her kid and tells me funny stories about what her kid did. I, in turn, show her pictures of my puppy and tell her funny stories about what my puppy did.

              There’s actually a lot of overlap: feces on the carpet, sleepless nights, tantrums, and lots of sass. Turns out 3-year-old girls and husky puppies can both be pretty sassy when they back-talk.

          3. Gerry Keay*

            Yeah, honestly that line sounds like a misogynistic dogwhistle to me. I have absulutely seen that language used as code for “other women take time off to have babies, and I don’t, which makes me superior.”

            1. Hydrangea*

              I don’t think that’s the case here. LW said she was pregnant and used the words “after having my baby and coming back to the office.”

              It can be tricky as a woman to make friends with men (hello, recent LW who was propositioned at a conference), so I can see looking only to the other women for friendship.

              I’m a little puzzled by the part about different life stages. It can also be very tricky to make friends with people outside of work who are in different life stages—think of trying to make evening plans between people with caregiving responsibilities at home and people without care giving responsibilities at home. That shouldn’t be the case for friendships at work, though. I wonder if LW needs either a better sense of “proximity friends bc we all work at the same place” vs “true friends who I happen to have met at work”, or better emotional intelligence to be able to converse in a friendly manner with people in all different life circumstances.”

              1. Cassandra Mortmain*

                Yeah, the different life stages thing can be a real barrier to making friend-friends at work — the kind of people you might do a lot of stuff with outside the office, or know you would stay in touch with if you left the job — but it doesn’t need to be a barrier to making work-friends.

                That said, it also sounds like OP had trouble with other people on their team due to differences in work ethic and that really is a barrier to work-friendship (maybe even more than friend-friendship!). Making my life harder at work is disqualifying for work friendship. I’ll be warm to you in meetings and nice at the holiday party, but my work friends have to be the people I trust when everyone around me is being an idiot.

            2. SomebodyElse*

              I think you might have missed the part where the OP had a baby. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything nefarious about the OP, she just made more of an effort with those above her in rank, or she made the same amount of effort and they valued the work she did more than her friendliness (which would make sense with her managers).

              At any rate, I think she could make more of an effort now to be friendly with her coworkers

              1. Gerry Keay*

                Having a baby doesn’t preclude you from internalized misogyny. Plenty of women look down on other women who have babies for not recovering at the same pace/taking more leave/”making women look bad.” I’ll admit I’m probably bringing in my own baggage — I just really chafe when “work ethic” gets whipped out to dismiss others. IME, it often reveals a deeper bias about how hard certain people could/should be working.

          4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I was very confused by that comment, too. Like… why specify women? Were the men all at the same life stage as OP, married and about to go on maternity leave? And I don’t know how to take the work ethics comment. If the teammates all had terrible work ethics, then why weren’t they all reprimanded or fired? if they all had better work ethics than OP, then why was OP promoted? if they all had average work ethics then is it a serious enough issue that OP didn’t get along with them all because of that? I have a lot of questions.

            1. Hydrangea*

              Having a lower work ethic than OP doesn’t mean they have a terrible work ethic. But we all know that lots of companies keep people on who are not performing well for one reason or another. We read the letters from their managers and coworkers a regular basis.

              If they were serious overachievers, it could be that they didn’t have management skills or just didn’t have interest in management.

      2. yala*

        I feel like at the bare minimum, you want to have a couple folks you can sit with/go with when there are Work Events

    2. Jeff*

      “I spend most of my waking hours at work so I like to act like my authentic human self”

      This is such a great way to frame the issue and I couldn’t agree more. Obviously there are some considerations around professionalism, etc. But it sounds exhausting to be putting on some sort of act for 40+ hours a week just because you’re “at work”.

  8. Poppy*

    I have friendly relationships with my coworkers, but I didn’t invite a single one to my wedding and I never see them outside of work. They’re nice enough people, but I don’t need to hang out with the guy who thinks he can cure monkeypox with plants or my politically extreme bosses. I have a couple friends from previous jobs, but we had a lot in common and could have been friends if we had met outside of work anyway.

  9. EnidWhatever*

    I definitely don’t seek out socialization with coworkers — I tend to be shy and introverted. I’m the kind of person who will deliberately try to time my visit to the office kitchen so that I don’t have to see anyone else in there. In the 15 years I’ve been working I can’t think of a time when I saw any of my coworkers outside of work, except for the occasional holiday lunch or happy hour (which, honestly, I would have skipped if I could).

    But I do still try to be pleasant and friendly. If a conversation comes up organically, I’m happy to chat, and if we’re sitting around waiting to start a meeting, I’ll tend to ask about weekend plans or something. [Obligatory: “It’s Tuesday, I don’t know.”] OP really does seem to be going out of her way to avoid any kind of connection, and I agree with Alison that it does seem like she’s making her job worse for no reason.

    1. Seashell*

      I feel similarly to you. Small talk doesn’t come easily to me, but I’ll do it if I must. I’m not dying to run into anyone in the break room (and haven’t had to since March 2020!), but I have reasonably pleasant co-workers.

      I haven’t made a hang-out-outside-of-work friend since the early 90’s, which I have mixed feelings about. I don’t feel entirely comfortable letting work people into my personal life, in part because I fear it might bite me in the rear if they start blabbing my personal stuff to co-workers. However, my husband has made many work friends over the year and is in an industry where networking is helpful, and it hasn’t seemed to harm him, except when he feels guilty about leaving a job while working with/for a friend.

    2. Spero*

      One thing that helps me is to remember it’s never too late! At the beginning of a meeting/check in/hallway chat I’m focused on the work issue. But once that’s out of the way, then I can remember to ask the social thing. For a long time I didn’t because it felt the moment had passed – now I just ask. At first people did seem surprised but no one ever refused to answer or called me out for not starting with that. My team and coworkers have seemingly all gotten accustomed to it and you will see us switch to social mode once the business is done.

  10. Neon*

    “I’m here to work, not make friends” ignores the reality that (in most jobs) being friendly and well-liked will enable you to get more and better work done.

    When people like you they want to help you; this help improves your ability to do your job.

    I am amazed by the number of smart people who are unable/unwilling to recognize this.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. I like to call it Social Contract Maintenance. Cultivating a warm, friendly demeanor is not unprofessional — it just lets you cultivate relationships with coworkers so that you all can collaborate to get work done.

      I was in management for 35 years and, in my experience, the time I put into cultivating relationships with my staff made them much more likely to keep me informed and let me know about problems before they became serious.

      None of this, btw, requires oversharing or extensive socializing.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I had a coworker who literally said, “I’m not here to make friends.” And yet apparently she made some, because the office emptied out to go to her funeral.

      1. Neon*

        I would be thrilled to hear a co-worker say that, because it would mean I never need to give a hoot about that guy or his problems ever again.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah, even the contestants on America’s Next Top Model who had that mindset didn’t fare too well.

    4. L-squared*

      This is so true. Unless you have a job where you NEVER need to talk to or ask anyone else for help, I feel like doing that will just make things difficult for you

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That’s pretty much where I fall. Show interest in your coworker as a human being? yes. Get invited to all the weekend parties, where we can sit around a table and crap on the outsiders on our work team who didn’t get invited? hell no.

    6. ThursdaysGeek*

      “I am amazed by the number of smart people who are unable/unwilling to recognize this.”

      That’s because there is a big difference between smart (aka intelligence) and wisdom, and many smart people think the goal is being smart instead of being wise.

  11. H3llifIknow*

    I can’t imagine the misery of spending 1/3 of your life *if not more* awake and in a place where you don’t feel welcome and connected. You don’t have to be BFFs with the people you work with, but the occasional banter, the camraderie, the sharing of the office grind, all make getting through those 8 hours more pleasant. The OP sounds very lonely at the office, and I suspect it’s probably too late to change the perception of her, but she can certainly try. Engage someone in small talk in the breakroom. Compliment a hairstyle or an outfit or even some work. Say, “what a cutie” when you see a pic on someone’s desk of their child, etc… It won’t happen overnight but small changes can lead to bigger benefits.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Honestly, as a professional autistic, I don’t think I’m ever going to feel welcome and connected in a workspace. I’ll always have to be heavily masking.

      Unless it’s that place in Australia from that one OP, the horror special effects guys. That actually feels genuinely welcoming of my absurdities and I will not lie, I would move to Australia to work somewhere where I’m not having to be on guard and masking 8+ hours a day.

      1. Bob-White of the Glen*

        And if I know you’re autistic, and it’s not an active dislike aimed at me, I’m going to try and figure out how to be inclusive with you in ways that you are comfortable with.

        But I also like “absurdities” and understand the power of having a group of people who think in different ways problem solving. Your brain is going to see a situation differently from my brain, and putting the two together will come up with unique, and most likely better, answers. I hope you get into a place where at least you can unmask some of the time KoiFeeder!

        People need to be aware that different people are social in different ways, whether it is from autism, being introverted or very shy, or being very business effective. I personally would not return from a trip with gifts for everyone in the office except one person, just because that person treated me with the same distance as everyone else. I just don’t get excluding people that way. (The exception would be someone who targeted me, bullied me, lied about me. But not someone who just is professional only, no personal, to everyone.)

        OP – I do think being too formal at work has probably hurt you a little, but you can change that pretty easily. Start with your own crew and be inclusive – lots of hints throughout the comments. But it’s never too late. And a little warmth goes a long way. Good luck to you, and I hope you get some good results and some great experiences from it.

      2. Jasmine Clark*

        If you’ve already made up your mind that there’s no chance you’ll ever feel warm and connected with others in the workplace, then you really won’t feel warm and connected. You’ve already decided that, so that’s what will happen.

        There’s no reason an autistic person can’t feel connected with others at work. Of course, it does depend on your job — it’s important to work a job you like (or at least don’t hate). So that does play a role, and if you’re in a job that really doesn’t feel right to you, I hope you can find a new job soon. So that’s important, but what’s also important is to decide that it IS possible for you to feel connected with others at work. You may not be best friends with everyone but you can be friendly and make a connection with SOMEONE. The fact that you’re autistic does NOT mean it’s impossible. Open yourself up to the possibility that there’s someone at your workplace whose personality will “click” with yours if you just give that person a chance.

        Actually my comment is true for anyone, autistic or not, who feels shy and socially awkward (including myself!!). If you decide “it’s hard for me to make friends,” “being social is too hard for me,” “no one understands me,” or “no one can relate to me,” then that’s what’s going to happen. It’ll be hard for you to make friends because you’ve already decided that it’s not going to work.

        So anyone who feels socially awkward in any way should reconsider the way they’re thinking about how they interact with others. Think “I’m going to find things I have in common with others.” “I’m going to listen to others and care about what’s going on in their lives.” “I can be open-minded when I interact with people who are different from me.” If you have more open-minded and positive ways of thinking, you’re more likely to get along with others even if they’re “different.”

        1. Hydrangea*

          KoiFeeder has been autistic her entire life. Reconsidering how she thinks isn’t going to make her any less autistic. I think she knows the kind of reception she gets, and we can take her at face value.

          This is true for everyone who is autistic, including me.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Another autistic, who has definitely made friends at work (though what I count as friendship may not look like an allistic friendship, I guess).

          Some autistic strengths support relationship building, eg perhaps you’re good at remembering small details of conversations so when Sally happens to mention her son you’ll be primed to ask if he’s still playing the clarinet; or you know that Bob’s birthday falls just after Q2 accounting finishes, so you can ask him if he has plans.

          Office smalltalk is eminently hackable, and you learn very interesting tidbits about people if you engage in it, even if your smalltalk doesn’t look like other people’s smalltalk.

        3. MEH Squared*

          I am not KoiFeeder, but I think you have it backwards (and are discounting KoiFeeder’s experience to boot). I am about as different from the norm is as many ways as possible. I am excruciatingly aware of that. I’m also exceedingly good at putting people at ease and making them comfortable–it’s just exhausting to me.

          It’s not about being aware of the differences–I am. It’s not about being open-minded–I don’t really have a choice in that matter since I’m the official weirdo and am reminded of it on a regular basis (passively, not assertively). I cannot change the fact that who I am is an anathema to many people, nor am I going to suddenly magically be ‘normal’ any time soon. I know that. I take that into account when I interact with other people. It’s not a self-defeating attitude to acknowledge this or to make concessions for it.

          I’m glad that I don’t work with in an office because while I could do it, it would take a lot out of me.

        4. KoiFeeder*

          I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean here. How does thinking positive thoughts change the fact that I cannot properly listen to a conversation while displaying the proper and expected emotional affect that will make people not feel off-put around me? At what point of open-mindedness do my social skills start improving beyond the plateau they’ve reached after over a decade of social skills therapy? If the power of thinking the way you consider appropriate solves the alienation caused by having to mask heavily just to be allowed to work at a company and having to retain that level of masking every day for 8+ hours in order to keep a job, I really want to know how that works!

          1. Calliope*

            There are places that don’t expect NT social responses at work from everyone. I worked at one and it was one that had a number of long-term autistic employees as well as just generally being friendly for ND people. It wasn’t perfect – where is – and I’m sure nobody felt entirely comfortable all the time, but some workplaces really do value an individual’s strengths and ways of thinking more than others.

      3. anon for this*

        Yeah, same. The funny thing here is that being myself and behaving in a way that feels comfortable to me is honestly going come across as much more unfriendly to most NTs than I do when I’m masking.

  12. L-squared*

    Totally agree with Alison’s answer here.

    I’m friendly with most of my coworkers in my office, but I’d really only consider one person a friend who I would hang out with on a random weekend that wasn’t a work event. But I get along great with a lot of the other people. You seem to have chosen to not have any personal relationship with others. And that is totally your choice, but now you have reaped what you sowed.

    I’d say it would likely come off pretty insincere if you started trying to be super friendly now. You can always soften, but after 5 years, I don’t think you will be looked at in great terms. So if you want that kind of warmth, I’d say you are better off starting over.

  13. FormerHigherEd*

    Maybe rethink the level of approachability you have at work?

    For me, being “civil” is like the first step up from being rude. I work with kids and will say, “you have to at least be civil/polite to each other.” So there’s technically no bad or rude behavior going on, but there’s not much else either. Ms. Manners couldn’t technically fault you, but there’s a lot of room for improvement before you even approach becoming work place bffs with everyone.

    1. Caramel and Cheddar*

      Yeah, there’s a lot in between “civil” and “BFF”, and “friendly” is probably a decent place to land.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Good distinction. I think approachability is especially important for managers to cultivate. If you want your team to keep you informed/fess up to errors/let you know about problems before they become disasters, you need to have a manner that lets them know it’s safe to do so.

    3. Joielle*

      Yeah, I don’t want to nitpick the OP’s exact words, but to me, the connotation of “civil” is like… when you go through a contentious breakup but you still have to exchange some texts to coordinate getting your stuff back from their house. Like, nobody is actively insulting each other but also nobody is enjoying the interaction. If the OP is really at “civil” level with their coworkers, they should try aiming at something closer to “friendly,” or even just “pleasant.”

      It can be hard to change course without feeling awkward, but the OP can start small. Try saying “Any fun plans this weekend?” and then smiling warmly as the person responds. Baby steps!

  14. Qwerty*

    The good news is that adding in warmth now can’t hurt. As long as you haven’t burned bridges, you should still be able to build up friendly connections. Just ease into it so that you don’t come on too strong and scare them off. Start with some small talk before/after a meeting and general pleasantries. Ask one of the more social people if you can be looped in when for the next happy hour.

    I can’t tell from your letter whether you are disliked or neutral (not liked nor disliked). I’m concerned it may the latter – whenever someone says they are not here to make friends, that’s usually a flag. Not getting along with your teammates because of “different work ethics” is another, since I normally hear that in a judgy tone. If that is the case with you, you can still turn it around partially! People react well to be accepted in the present tense. If you do decide to move onto another company, it would be helpful to reflect on why you didn’t get along with your coworkers so that you can have a smoother entry to the new place. There’s too many people in this equation for it all to be purely “personal chemistry”. Did you just get off on the wrong foot and struggle to recover? Or was there something in particular that was a divide?

  15. elizabeth*

    I know I’m reading between the lines here (based largely on the “work ethic” comment), but I’m wondering if the LW has been having difficulty being warm to people whose work performance or output doesn’t match up to LW’s personal expectations and values. I know how tough that can be myself, as I’ve supervised an admin assistant and a couple of interns whose performance was poor. Even if you’re not in a supervisory role and someone’s work affects yours, it can be hard to want to be even a baseline-level of friendly with them but it’s still necessary if you want to function well in the office.

    1. Cringing 24/7*

      Yeah, I was worried I might have read the “work ethic” comment with a bit too much weight, but I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    2. lyngend (canada)*

      I’ve never technically supervised (didn’t have any power), but I was the person training and responsible for ensuring everything on my shift got done. And yeah, it’s really hard to be friends with someone when you want to force understanding of expectations and efficiency into their brains. (on the extreme end). Very glad to be out of that job.

  16. Coco*

    I completely agree with Alison’s response. There is a distinction between “warmth” and “friendship.” You don’t have to be BFFs, but as Alison describes, warmth has a lot of benefits. Especially being warm with your peer and other who don’t directly report to you. So how does one generate warmth? Water cooler small talk.
    How was your weekend? My spouse and I are rooming to try some new restaurants, do you have any suggestions? That heavy rain storm last night was sure something huh? I really like your blouse, where did you get it? I see you put some vacation on the calendar, doing anyplace special? Did anyone else catch jeopardy last night?
    If anyone else has kids around the same age, that can be a point of conversation too.

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely. I think it’s a great distinction between friendship and warmth. I have very few friends from work because I’m fussy about my close friends and I don’t have a huge amount in common with most of my colleagues. I try to be friendly and warm to my team and my colleagues because most of them are decent people and a good rapport can make for better collaboration. I think some of it comes from small talk and just getting to know people or doing small favours for people.

      For example, my colleague Jed in another part of the company was interviewing and wanted a woman on the panel (because my company likes diverse panels), so he asked me. I was happy to be on the panel with him and we got to know each other better in the breaks between candidates. So when I had a spreadsheet problem a few weeks later (because pivot tables hate me) I remembered he said he was good at Excel and asked him to help me. My problem got solved and he showed me some neat tricks for spreadsheets.

      Also you don’t have to be best friends with everyone to have a reasonable social network. I have coffee with some of my colleagues and maintain networks because it’s useful. None of them are my close friends but I have a network of people I coffee with regularly and it’s proved very helpful.

  17. Purely Allegorical*

    Something to consider — if you want to move on to other jobs at some point, a huge part of that will rely on the network you’ve built. Part of building a strong network is by being warm and friendly; people will need to want to go out of their way for you, to do you that favor of making the right introduction at the right time. It’s a lot harder to do that when you keep everyone at arm’s length.

    Also as others have said, it doesn’t need to be all or nothing; you don’t have to choose between the two extremes of walling everyone off or having everyone be your BFF. A middle ground exists. Sounds like it would be in your interest to move from the walled off extreme more to the middle.

  18. Lobsterman*

    For me, what seemed to come through was that OP appears to dislike almost all of their coworkers. I have worked jobs like that. It’s better to move on to places where one is at least pleasantly neutral to the median coworker.

  19. Caroline+Bowman*

    ”I’m here to work, not make friends” is always – there are no exceptions – used to justify being unfriendly, aloof, unwilling to do more than the barest minimum re friendly interaction.

    It’s like people saying ”I’ve got to be honest” before saying something unkind, in that both of thest statements don’t take account of the middle ground. You don’t HAVE to be bluntly honest and share your every thought, especially if it’s likely to be hurtful. You CAN just say nothing or be non-committal, right? That’s always an option!

    ”I’m not here to make friends” well then, mission accomplished, you’ve made no friends! You could have, I don’t know, built warm and collegial interactions over the half-decade at the company. You might even have – gasp – found some common ground with a few people, networked and expanded your life in various ways. You chose not to. Now everyone dislikes you and isn’t your friend at all!

    If it was me, I’d go elsewhere and learn the lesson that being friendly and warmly disposed to your colleagues, showing up for occasional social types of things and getting to know people at least somewhat is part of corporate work.

  20. Tupac Coachella*

    Oof, I can relate, OP. I work in a field where it’s very common for coworkers to hang out socially (higher ed), and it is not my bag at all. Not only am I beyond disinterested in making outside-of-work friends at work, attempts to do so have been pretty awkward and unsuccessful. I just want to work at work, I don’t want to socialize. I barely want to socialize at home. But at my job, being unfriendly has tangible, work related disadvantages, so I have to adapt. I still feel like I miss out on the benefits of being a full participant in the culture of the workplace, but here are some tips that have helped me mitigate it, just a little, without feeling like I have to pretend to be someone totally different:

    -As Alison described, be friendly, even if you aren’t trying to advance the friend relationship. Ask superficial questions. Open e-mails with “hope you had a good weekend!” Have quirky or personal items at your desk and entertain questions about them enthusiastically.

    -Think of a certain amount of socializing as part of the job. You do have to make SOME effort in most workplaces, because knowing the roles, preferences, and subtle cues of the people you work with allows you to be more effective. Being part of the community is an essential skill in many if not most professions. It makes me feel better about taking time to chat or hanging behind after a meeting to talk to people if I think of relationship building as a task for my to-do list instead of a waste of time.

    -Smile a lot. People think you’re nice when you smile. Whenever I leave my office, I smile and say hi to everyone I see. I walk fast, so I rarely have to have actual conversations, but people value being acknowledged.
    -Learn and use people’s names. It really makes people feel like you’re making an effort…mostly because you are-names can be hard! Likewise, if you use someone’s name they tend to find a way to learn who you are and what you do, too (people don’t like it when you know them but they don’t know you), which can be useful professionally.

    -Get a ringer. I have a few coworkers who are good at relationships, and they tell me all kinds of useful information. These people are generally pleasant to associate with because they enjoy people-ing, and they are often sensitive enough to different personalities that they’re respectful of your boundaries pretty effortlessly. Bonus is that they say nice things about you to other people, so you become friendly by association.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      This is all very clear and actionable!

      I wish my coworker would read this. They appear cold and never speak to anyone. I get not wanting to socialize and be friend friends, but it must be so unpleasant to be in a place 8 hours a day and not ever talk to anyone; even work tasks are via email or slack, they literally don’t talk to anyone. Maybe once every two weeks to someone outside our department.

    2. Aiani*

      I just want to add to your excellent comment.
      If like myself, you feel that your smile isn’t everything you want it to be, a small nod or wave is useful too. Adjust the size of your/nod wave dependent on distance from the person you are acknowledging.
      Make a small humorous comment every now and then either in person or in chat/email. It doesn’t need to be a full on comedy routine, just a little joke or funny gif.

    3. ferrina*

      This is excellent advice! Love the advice about a ringer- I hadn’t seen that before, but it’s true. Several coworkers and I have an informal information network where we share both work related updates and relationship information, sometimes at the same time! The personal/relationship information can be so helpful–

      “Admin is considering a policy to require all chocolate consumption be pre-approved. It sounds like Greg is the main advocate and the other VPs are just going along with it- Nancy prefers Skittles, so she won’t really be impacted, and Jessup doesn’t like it but he’s already on thin ice with Greg. You have a strong relationship with Nancy- can you say something to her about the potential policy?”

      This kind of information is crucial for any organization with even a little politics, and I found it was so, so helpful when advocating for my team. (and interestingly, this approach means you can navigate the politics with minimum BS. Stronger relationships often means you can be more direct)

    4. Joielle*

      This is great advice! I especially like the idea of keeping something interesting or personal at your desk. You have to give people a topic of conversation to start with, especially if they don’t really know anything about you right now.

      For me, I have plants in my office, and people know that I like gardening. That’s an easy topic with lots of small talk potential. People can poke their head in and say “plants are looking nice today!” or “how about that freeze last night, did you cover the tomatoes?” And when people ask what I’m doing over the weekend, I can always say “lots of weeds to pull!” or whatever. It lets people feel like they know something about me, without having to get too deep on other topics that are more personal.

  21. Bookworm*

    I have found that any friendships I made from work lasted awhile but eventually we drifted apart for one reason (sometimes it’s just that lack of connection, physical geography, etc.). I’ve just never understood the need to make friends and also enjoyed that strict work/life boundary. It’s just never been worth it for me, but YMMV.

  22. Lacey*

    Alison is 100% on this.
    You can be friendly without being friends.
    You can be warm to people without getting close to them.

    I have a super friendly coworker. She’s good at her job and she’s friendly.
    That’s all I know about her. I don’t know her hobbies or her husband’s name or anything.
    But she’s SO pleasant to interact with that I’m far happier to do her a work favor than any other coworker.

  23. Ann O'Nemity*

    “I’m married and was pregnant when I started, and though I worked full-time and more than satisfied my boss, I didn’t get along well with many of the other women on my team who were in different life stages and had different work ethics than myself. There was just no personal chemistry.”

    I’m trying to untangle the issues mentioned here. The OP notes being at a different life stage. Significantly older or younger? Is the OP the only woman at work with kids? The only one with young kids? I admit that it can be difficult to click with coworkers who are at different life stages, especially if you’re the lone odd one out.

    And I’m wondering how work ethic is tangled up in this. Considering the OP came back from having a baby to a promotion, I’m guessing she has a good work ethic. So then the other women have a bad work ethic? Having this kind of opinion of coworkers can definitely come across as superior/judgmental, which can also make it hard to make work friends.

    1. turquoisecow*

      I don’t understand the “different life stages” at all. I have worked with people who were 40 years older than me and 20 years younger and obviously we were in different life stages but we still got along great and were friendly to one another. I used to work retail and manage cashiers from 16 to retirement age and everything in between and I can’t remember not getting along with any of them. There were certainly people I clicked with better than others and I’m not in contact with most of them years after leaving the job, but life stages had nothing to do with it.

      I’ve also often been in workplaces where I am the only person in my stage of life. I often end up with people who are younger or older than me by many years. In that retail store I was finishing college while many of my coworkers were mid-high school or post-retirement working part time. If I had stuck only to being friendly with people in my life stage I would have been really lonely and not stayed nearly as long in the job as I had.

      Did OP work with a lot of just out of college party people who didn’t like children? That’s the only thing that I feel like would make a big difference.

    2. Jasmine Clark*

      Right, I was picking up on that too. LW seems to be judgmental. As I said in my comment below, it’s so important to have the skill of being able to get along with people who are different from you. Most people don’t have this crucial skill!

    3. Hlao-roo*

      When I was new to the professional world, fresh out of college, I worked on a few teams with mostly middle-aged, married-with-children coworkers. We were definitely at different life stages, and I didn’t pursue friendships with those coworkers the way I did with the one or two also just-out-of-college coworkers. But I still had warm coworker relationships with them. “How was your weekend?/How are your kids?” Those sorts of friendly, coworker level of small talk conversations.

      I find it interesting that the LW feels that being at different life stages precludes both (?) being friends and being friendly with her coworkers/reports.

    4. Anonymous*

      I am struck by this idea that married people don’t have friends at work? what… maybe I’m reading too much into this. Having a kid obviously takes up time and energy so I get that…

      Also seems strange to me to not enjoy the company of other people just bc they have a different work ethic…

    5. Coco*

      “It can be difficult to click with coworkers who are at different life stages, especially if you’re the lone odd one out.”

      Yes, precisely! I’m the only member of my team who isn’t some combination of married/engaged/has kids/currently pregnant/trying for a baby. A lot of our office small talk is centered around families and family activities. I don’t have a family of my own and it can feel alienating at times. Even though I’m in my early 30s, I often times feel like I’ve been banished to the kids table while the grown folks talk.

      1. Louise B*

        Do you have extended family that you’re close to? I’ve found an odd “oh my niece took a watercolor class and really liked it” or “I’m doing well but unfortunately my nephew is sick with the flu” can help me feel more like a part of the conversation and not the Lone One Out. Of course it also depends on whether it’s a group of people organically chatting about shared experiences as opposed to a clique who feel superior due to their family planning choices. The first group you probably can chat with a little! The second group sucks to work with

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Lol, I’m in Coco’s situation and I don’t have extended family with children, period (only child with no first cousins). So I don’t even get Cool Aunt cred. The adults in my family are also not predisposed toward doing family stuff at all. Family, whatever form it takes, is usually a central thing for people, even when it’s not their family of origin. Even when people aren’t being cliquey about being parenthood, the lack of shared experience becomes very difficult to avoid highlighting and randomly alienating.

      2. ferrina*

        Ugh, that’s frustrating. When all relationships revolve around 1 or 2 topics, it is so limiting!

        I’ve found that my work relationships often revolve around different connections. You can find something in common with pretty much anyone. Some coworkers I make Dungeons and Dragons jokes with. Some I talk about parenting with. Some I just flat out listen to their music suggestions and marvel at the artists they find. There’s always something, but both parties need to put in half an effort.

      3. Flowers*

        I’m sorry, that’s not a good feeling. I’ve been in that situation but not in a work context.

        I try to be very careful about who I talk to about my daughter specifically because of that; some ppl are more interested in hearing about my toddler while for others, a different topic would be a better way to connect.

    6. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Reading between the lines I suspect that OP isn’t in a place where she knows how to or wants to talk about much other than mom life. That, or she is making some problematic assumptions about what the lives of single and/or childfree adult women look like.

  24. Banana*

    I had this mindset at one point in my career, and I’ve moved past it. I started my career with a super close group that was relaxed and friendly to the point of unprofessionalism. I knew that was problematic, and my next role, I overcorrected. There were a bunch of additional factors – I was an internal customer to my new team in my previous role, and started the role by fixing a persistent issue they swore they couldn’t fix, which ruffled some feathers. I was also a young parent and life was overwhelming, I was socially overdoing it outside of work due to being an introvert trying to keep up with an extrovert spouse. I just decided I didn’t need to make friends on my team and I didn’t care if people liked me. I threw myself into work and wasn’t a very good team player – I didn’t share knowledge, I overworked myself and created skewed expectations for my coworkers, I signed up for more work than I could handle and fell behind and refused to ask for help. I felt superior to my coworkers who had time for chit chat. Ugh, it was bad.

    One thing that helped me change was taking a different role. I didn’t leave the company, but I changed jobs to one that was more collaborative. I thawed a little. Then in my next role, developing warm but professional relationships with people was actually part of my performance expectations, and the one area my new manager expressed some reservations about when hiring me. I took that concern to heart and worked REALLY hard to change myself and the perceptions I’d created.

    I avoided overloading on tactical/traditional work and asked for projects that involved more collaboration. I scheduled and religiously kept one on one meetings with my staff and my manager. I turned talking to people and displaying an interest in them personally into a metric – it did not come naturally at first, but I sort of gamified it until it was genuine (I set goals for myself on chatter time/number of people and took brief notes on things I should remember and ask about later). I signed up for a work committee and took that work seriously. We had monthly division-wide social events that were coordinated by managers, and I made attending and fully participating in those a priority and ultimately planned a few. It was hard work but I did it.

    Funny story – I’m in a different role now, and my director is an engineer with the stereotypical engineer blind spots about people, and an unofficial part of my job is nudging and coaching him when he’s forgetting to be a person instead of a robot. I get high praise in my reviews on my interpersonal skills.

  25. bamcheeks*

    LW, do you have enough friends OUTSIDE work? I think it’s fine to make friends through work and find to not maje friends at work, but i find that if I’m regretting a lack of intimacy at work (or resenting others for their intimacy) it’s because I’m not getting enough social nourishment outside work. And that’s a very understandable place to be in when you’ve got two small children! But starting to find the other parents or people you have a genuine connection with outside work will make it much easier NOT to seek your social connections there.

  26. Jasmine Clark*

    I really like Alison’s answer. I think LW is choosing to be cold to her coworkers, and her coworkers have picked up on that and they feel intimidated by her and don’t want to pursue a friendship with her.

    LW, you say that other people leave you out of social things. But if you’re not making any effort to be friendly with them, you shouldn’t be surprised that they leave you out. They’re treating you the way you want to be treated — you’ve shown them that you don’t want to be their friend, so they’re acting accordingly.

    Even though you’re a manager, it’s important to be warm and friendly so that the people you’re managing won’t be nervous around you and they can relax and be themselves.

    But I don’t think it’s too late to become warm and friendly with your coworkers. It’s never too late. If you want to stay in your job, you can make more of an effort to be friendly with others. They’ll be surprised but it’ll be a pleasant surprise!

    Also there’s one more thing I want to say…

    I didn’t get along well with many of the other women on my team who were in different life stages and had different work ethics than myself. There was just no personal chemistry.

    I think it’s important to be around people who are different from you — different ages, different life stages, different personalities, different backgrounds. Getting along with people who are different from you is a skill most people don’t have, but the world would be a better place if they did! (me too… I need to remember this)

    1. ferrina*

      One of the people I worked best with was someone I would never, ever hang out with outside of work. We had complete different interests and completely different viewpoints on the world. But we had shared work goals and a shared approach, and we each respected and relied on the professional expertise that the other person had. We highlighted each other’s professional accomplishments to others. Great work relationship, zero relationship outside of work.

  27. KatEnigma*

    “different work ethics” is a fairly loaded statement. It sounds like you decided you didn’t like your coworkers from pretty early on. And now, despite claiming it’s not keeping you up at night, you’re writing to Alison about it, so it is bothering you. Do you want to be friendlier with your coworkers? Then be so. But if you don’t like them, then why pretend to it, and why not look for someplace where you might actually like the people you work with?

    1. ferrina*

      Lol, I definitely read “different work ethics” as “they didn’t do a good job/didn’t take their job seriously and it sucked working with them.”

      But yeah, it’s super passive aggressive. Especially when you’re anonymously writing to an internet stranger and there’s no reason not to say what you mean.

  28. Nerto*

    As I have always said…. “be friendly, but not friends”. Get along with others, be pleasant, but you don’t have to associate with your coworkers anymore than you want to. Being popular is a helpful way to avoid being fired. But don’t be too popular because senior managers will resent you.

  29. My own boss*

    I think coming back from leave opens up a great opportunity to intentionally start working on building relationships with colleagues, as long as you’re genuinely interested in doing the work to connect. You could totally say something like “I was always told it wasn’t appropriate to be friends with people at work, but while I was on leave I realized that I want to have better relationships with my coworkers. I apologize for being distant before, and I hope I can get to know you better now.” It will almost definitely be awkward, but if you follow it up with getting to know them on a personal level, it will be worth it.

    Seriously, I cannot overstate how important having good relationships with coworkers has been throughout my career. Having friends at work is awesome on its own, but my teams have always worked harder and done better work because they know I care about them as people.

  30. RJ*

    Work, like life, doesn’t have to be all or nothing, OP. You can be friendly without necessarily making your charges and co-managers your friends. Just let it happen and let it be.

  31. Just Want A Nap*

    I’ve got a couple especially friendly relationships with some people at work, but generally try to keep the warm responses for everyone. I could go to a happy hour and find common ground with about 90% of my coworkers, but there’s a couple I know I’d be friends with if we stopped working together.
    I recently started on a new team and they’re not… warm? Same company, just super business all the time. I can DO that but it’s making me not like my new team. I’m coping by inviting the team to come with me to get lunch or “Hey we’re in this meeting early! How was your weekend?” But it’s just not the vibe of the team.

  32. Ah Yes*

    Some red flags statements from this letter were “I didn’t get along well with many of the other women on my team”, “had different work ethics than myself”, “I’m here to work, not make friends”, and “I do have the respect of and positive work relationships with my boss and other department managers, which I try to think of as more important.”

    All of these make it sound like you’re putting yourself above the people who are working for you, and in some ways looking down your nose that them. I get wanting to be professional, but it seems like you may be carrying a bit of a aura of superiority with you to the workplace and that’s turning people off. If you don’t like the people you work with and you’re letting that show (which it seems like you don’t and you are), they’re not going to like you. I don’t know that there’s a way to backtrack from that without seeming like you’re trying too hard and are faking it. At this point, I think people would view your attempts at small talk or friendliness with a bit of suspicion.

    Regardless of whether you decide to stay or go, though, I recommend reading Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead to figure out how to tap into your vulnerability to become a better leader and build a better relationship with your team.

    1. Meep*

      The “don’t get along with other women” rubbed me the wrong way as a woman in a very male-dominated industry. I see it all the time when women later in their careers have such distaste for new graduates because they had to fight and claw their way to be respected by men. And rather than trying to help their fellow woman succeed, they decide to make it harder on them.

      We have one client who mistook me as a booth babe. She was downright cruel to me when we first met before my male coworker came over. Then this lady literally PURRED. The woman who was asking me pointed questions and getting pissed off when I didn’t give her an answer within half a second was admitting to him, she didn’t know either! It is night and day how she treats my less-experienced male coworkers to this day. It isn’t empowering. It is sad. For her.

      I am not saying it is OP’s case, but it made me wonder if her boss and all the other managers are male and OP was a pick-me-girl.

    2. bamcheeks*

      “cliques” is a flag for me. Very occasionally, there are people who actively want to form cliques and enjoy making other people feel excluded. But most of the time, “cliques” means “those people are close to each other, it’s not about me at all, but I feel resentful when I see their intimacy because I’m pretty lonely right now.”

  33. to varying degrees*

    I disagree with the implication that work friendship is not true friendship. There are many different types of friendship, some are closer than others, but unless the parties involved are being fake or disingenuous, all are real friendships. I have work friends (both ex and otherwise) that are more work friends and I have other (at this time ex-coworkers) that are now and were at the time very close friends. I vacation with them, I’ve married a couple of them, hell one is the beneficiary to my life insurance, just because I’m closer with them than others doesn’t make the other not “true friends”.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yes, and I’m a big believer in situational friends of all types! I have always had people I was friends with in particular situations where we were same time / same place / same lifestage — at school, at university, housemates, work friends, pregnancy-and-small-child friends, even specific-online-platform friends— and some of those friendships survived moving on and some didn’t. But the ones that didn’t were just as real to me as the ones that did! There are some people I don’t miss at all once we’re out of work orbit, some who I’m not in touch with but I really miss and think about often, and some who are still my go-tos for friends decades after we worked together. But I don’t think of the ones which didn’t survive a change of state as not “real” friendships.

  34. Whale I Never*

    One thing that jumped out at me is that LW describes herself as well-liked by her boss and other managers, but not the people she supervises. I’d be curious to know why. Do the people at LW’s level and above happen to have similar interests? Do they see each other less, so the lack of socialization isn’t seen as a snub? Does LW put more effort into the relationships with them? Does the workplace culture in general seem to have a sharp social divide between managers and non-managers?

  35. Smithy*

    I’m sorry but I think people have noticed you don’t like them much. I don’t think it’s unreasonable they’ve formed that opinion given how you’ve described them.

    I work in a very people oriented industry, and forming warm and friendly relationships with people is essential. I literally would not be able to promote somebody who couldn’t do that. Industries differ, but in most you would do yourself a disservice by being so aloof.

    If you are happy making a minimal effort to get to know people, and genuinely don’t want to put more effort in, then you may as well stay where you are. If you are committed to making this change and embracing human connection, then I think your plan of starting again with a clean slate is best.

  36. The Prettiest Curse*

    I agree with Alison’s advice, but I’m side-eyeing the co-workers who bring back souvenirs for everyone except OP. That seems unnecessarily mean. I’m glad that the rule at all offices I’ve worked in was to bring back something for the entire office and small gifts for everyone on your team as an optional extra.

    1. H.C.*

      Agreed on the unnecessary souvenir exclusion, though personally I keep it simple and just bring back some edible/potable goodies from wherever I vacay’d and leave it on the communal coffee counter (NOLA pralines were a big hit, lol)

    2. Meep*

      I wonder if it isn’t that OP isn’t getting a souvenir as a slight, but as OP didn’t express interest. It is like in school where if you decline to hang out with someone after awhile, you will stop getting the invites. Besides, how are her coworkers supposed to know what she likes?

    3. UKDancer*

      I’ve only ever worked in places where you just brought something edible back for the team. I’ve never been anywhere with individual presents. I mean usually in my company you bring back a box of the local delicacy and leave it on the table by the printer. So today I could see Turkish delight and a box of clotted cream fudge for example as I’ve had one colleague just back from Marmaris and one back from Cornwall.

      1. Storm in a teapot*

        Dammit I’ve just realised I’m back in the office tomorrow after coming back from a holiday and I forgot to pick up some goodies in Duty Free

        Maybe I can just claim they all got eaten first thing?

        1. UKDancer*

          You could buy doughnuts on the way in and say you didn’t see anything people would like? My office likes sweet things from abroad but a box of Krispy Kremes goes down very well too and doesn’t last long.

  37. H.C.*

    I’m in that comfortable space of where I’m considered friendly and/or interesting enough to be invited to some lunches, post-work HHs, potlucks & celebrations, but not really in the inner circle where they would plan dinner parties, weekend outings & vacations together (which is way too much entangling of personal & professional lives for my preference, so I’m more than happy to be left out of those.)

    But I agree with Alison that displaying warmth & showing some interest in your co-workers’ lives outside of just work should be helpful in building & sustaining work friendships. However, it’s key to be consistent with that behavior and not running “hot and cold” and, because you are a manager, give off the impression of playing favorites.

    Since LW also offered up their age, I think that plays a factor as well – IMO, younger coworkers are generally more open to developing work friendships since they are still building their social circles, more actively networking to advance their careers & do not have as many commitments outside of work (child/family care, time with SOs, etc.) That’s not to say you can’t socialize or become work friends w older colleagues, but be mindful that they can’t easily join an impromptu after-work gathering or might not have the resources to devote to a recurring potluck or bingewatch club, for example.

  38. Scout Finch*

    It’s hard to balance between “friendly” and “supervisor” – I prefer not to supervise for that very reason. But it can be done – but it takes being deliberate in your interactions, taking care to hit just the right balance.

    Showing my age here, but reminds me of M*A*S*H – when Maj. Houlihan got upset with the nurses for never even inviting her for a cup of coffee. I felt so bad for her.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I found that being friendly evenly to everyone, along with clear boundaries that also applied to everyone, kept me in a good place. I had regular one on ones with my staff and I always asked them about a couple of personal things, like, “How is your baby doing”, or “How was your vacation”? Basically showing interest in them as people and remembering things about them went a long way. With boundaries, I was always clear that as a supervisor I couldn’t accept personal invitations – a couple of times I had to decline invites to, say, dinner, or drinks with a couple of people from the team. Everyone always understood when I said I wanted to avoid any appearance of favoritism. In meetings I held time for some chit chat, offered up some stories about myself, etc. None of this is a huge overshare, just enough to encourage human bonds, I suppose.

  39. A Simple Matter*

    But I’m now questioning whether I should have put more effort into making friends at work

    Yes. You should have.

  40. Curmudgeon in California*

    I’m not a manager, yet, but I am a pretty senior IC. In order to do my work (operations), which is technical but often supports other people, I need to create and maintain connections outside of my department. This means a little small talk in Zoom calls, dad jokes in chat, and general active recognition of others as people, not just roles in the organization. I’m an introvert, but I don’t need to be a gushing extrovert to build casual relationships with my coworkers.

    In my work, I need those little, lightweight relationships to make their and my jobs easier. A person will come to me for help earlier if I’m more approachable. I don’t think my level of friendliness would need to change as a manager. If anything, I would need to cultivate more relationships with other departments and managers.

    If the LW has solidly established a persona as “all work, no play” and quite a bit chilly, they may have to move companies to correct that. Otherwise, they need to take two weeks vacation, go on a nature retreat, and come back more human and interactive with others.

    The upshot is you can be friendly, casual acquaintances with your coworkers and subordinates without being overly friendly in a biased way. If you treat everyone warmly, it’s not bias, it’s just doing business. It doesn’t really take much – greetings, small talk about the weather, commiseration about the commute or weather or allergies or whatever, a lightweight pun here and there – things like that. You don’t have to engage in drama or heart-to-hearts with people to be a friendly coworker. Just keep it away from religion, politics, sex and diet. ;-)

  41. Gerry Keay*

    “Well well well, if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions.”

    You wanted to not make friends at work, so you don’t have any friends at work, and now you are upset you don’t have any friends at work. I’m not sure what you thought was going to happen?

  42. roann*

    I’ll always remember a great piece of advice my mom gave me back when I first entered the working world. She said, “You can be friendly with your boss [or reports], but you shouldn’t be familiar.” It’s always stuck with me, and I’ve always had pretty friendly relationships with the majority of my team, bosses included. Two or three of those people over the years have become genuine friends, usually just before we no longer worked together so it’s worked out.

    1. Flowers*

      Can someone please elaborate on the “familiar” part? I think I have an idea but maybe it’s different from what I’m thinking. I’m guessing “familiar” in this case is synonymous with being too comfortable?

  43. sav*

    It sounds to me like you got what you thought you wanted, but are now realizing maybe you’ve made a mistake. That’s okay! Hindsight is 20/20, eh?

    It can be hard to strike a friendly-but-not-friends balance at work, where a lot can be at stake! Especially for us neurodivergent folks (I don’t know that you are ND, but I know at least from my personal experience that can add several more layers onto an already complex problem). I don’t think there is any harm in trying to be warmer with your coworkers. I also don’t think there would be any harm in moving on and starting fresh, but I’d really consider giving it a chance where you’re comfortable first (comfortable compared to starting a brand new job anyway).

    Best of luck to you, LW. This isn’t an easy place to be in, but it’s excellent that you’re realizing things about yourself and how you work (and how you WANT to work).

  44. El+l*

    The short answer is it sounds like (within boundaries) you could use to start new relationships with more humanity – and you’d feel better to throw a bit more into your existing ones.

    Long answer, you actually have at least 2 distinct problems here:

    1. Should I be more warm with my current colleagues? If it helps you feel less lonely, sure, but know (a) Keep expectations low – too late for you to be BFF, (b) People will wonder if your more-friendly nature is authentic, and (c) It doesn’t follow that you’ll collaborate better – that functional attribute will take more.
    2. Should I be more social for my long-term career progression? Probably yes. Like it or not, it isn’t all about the work. People trust not only on your competence, but on your affinity with them. Many people also way-overdose on the affinitive trust, but you’ll find easier and deeper relationships if (after establishing competence) you can show your humanity.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Interesting anecdote:

      A very senior manager (CSO) at one place I worked had received some major feedback that he wasn’t seen as friendly and approachable. (He really wasn’t.) He fixed it by doing two things: 1) Started greeting people inside and outside his group, and 2) he got an adorable corgi, and posted lots of pictures on our office pets Slack channel. Plus he posted vacation pictures on the photos channel. This made him more relatable, and friendly. Sure, as a senior director he wasn’t everyone’s friend, but he actually became well liked and approachable.

  45. CommanderBanana*

    I feel like there’s a big difference between keeping personal friendships and work separate and the attitude of “I’m here to work, not make friends”. That’s the kind of thing people on reality television competition shows say.

  46. Meep*

    It sounds like you aren’t making an effort to be personable with your coworkers. You don’t have to be their friends, but asking them how their weekend was will go along way in promoting good will.

  47. Sunflower*

    One does not need to make friends but it makes work life easier to be friendly or respectful. I’m sorry but the “I’m only here to work” may cause others to be afraid to approach her which is why they’re not including her even if they want to.

    I’ve made good friends at work. The kind where we go on vacations together, to their weddings, watch their children grow up, etc.

    Others I’m friendly or at least polite with. There are different age groups and some have more in common than others. But I make small talk and ask for their thoughts and ideas, bring the team local food/souvenirs from vacation, bring in candy or baked goods once in a while, participate in parties and potlucks. Even just saying a simple good morning and good night goes a long way.

    1. Sunflower*

      Please don’t feel like you have to be the “mom” and and bring in treats. It’s just we all do it in my office. Both men and women.

  48. higheredadmin*

    I think there’s a lot to unpack here. As a supervisor of a team, I wouldn’t expect to be invited to events/activities where the team (who spend a lot more time together and are probably closer) wouldn’t want their boss there. An example was a close team that I managed where one person got married, and invited the rest of the team but not me. I personally hate weddings so was thrilled, but the staff member quietly asked me if I minded not being invited – I said no, and that I understood why she might not want her boss at her wedding. I instead sat and politely let her show me what felt like a million wedding photos. So there is a remove that comes from being the supervisor/manager. That said, you do need to be friendly and interested in people at work. Lots of great advice in this thread, from getting involved in the college basketball pool/fantasy football to bringing in homemade baked goods once a month. I always memorize everyone’s favorite treats/how they like their coffee etc., and always always say good morning and good evening when I come and go. I’m also someone who tries to put a warm phrase in every email. (I literally write my email, and then go back in to add something like “hope you have a restful weekend.”)

    RE: kids, it does mean that it is much more difficult for LW to participate in social activities after work, from going for a quick drink before heading home to activities at the weekend. If this is the office culture, then it will be hard for LW to fit in if she is also focusing on spending time with little kids. So LW should really look at what she can get engaged in within the work day, and if there are office activities that she can contribute to. She can also use the kid excuse – it just makes you more human if you explain why. I always say: I would love to come, and that sounds so fun, but I’m on kid duty that evening. Tell me all about it on Friday!

  49. Betty (the other betty)*

    I have not read the article.

    OP, you don’t have to be close friends with your coworkers, but there is such a thing as “work friends” or being generally friendly to the people you work with.

    The sort of things you feel left out over — lunches, happy hours, gifts after vacations — you can take the first step. Bring back a box of chocolate macadamia nuts from your Hawaiian vacation, or whatever little thing from wherever you go. Mention that you’ve been wanting to try “nearby restaurant for lunch” or “nearby bar for happy hour” and ask if anyone wants to join.

    You don’t need to participate in complaining about work or reveal too much about your private life to be friendly. Taking an interest in other people will go way further than trying to talk too much about yourself anyway.

  50. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    So, I’m one of the “I’m not at work to make friends” folks, because I’ve experienced the other extreme a few times in my career. I started at my first US job not knowing anyone in a new to me country, and wanting to make ALL the friends. That ended with me fielding a married boss’s sexual advances, having a teammate be angry at me for those advances happening, developing a crush on a coworker and having him notice that and avoid me, which I thought would hurt me professionally… married boss going on to have an affair with another teammate and using me as his confidante. Fun! I had to change jobs to get away from the drama, started the new job with the “not here to make friends” attitude… But I left that job 16 years ago and still have friends from there! They just… happened? Through nothing other but working together to get things done, and having each other’s back during work crises.

    I had another job later where people went out of their way to make the workplace a social scene. There were cliques, I was part of the popular group for a while, got invites to parties etc. There was also brutal gossip about the unpopular kids. (mind you the kids were all in their 30s and 40s) I finally realized I hated that dynamics, and distanced myself. Probably put myself on the unpopular kids list by doing so, but I truly could not care less. OP saying that they’re excluded from popular groups, not invited to coworker events and weddings, makes me wonder if there is a similar dynamics at their workplace. I’d avoid it like the plague if so; in the sense of keeping things strictly work-related and not being available for the social events and invites.

    But… like I already mentioned, I maintain the attitude of “I’m here to work, not to make friends” but I do end up making friends at work. Just by working together, having their back, and a small amount of small talk that shows them they aren’t impersonal cogs to me, but real people with unique lives outside of work, which I respect.

    I also appreciate it when my manager takes some level of interest in my personal life, instead of seeing me as a robot who’s just there to bang out code, or to be reprimanded if life interferes with the speedy banging out of the code.

    But also, honestly, the only times I’ve seen a manager be actively avoided or disliked at work is when the manager impedes the reports’ work or professional growth, with things like micromanagement, loading the reports up with busywork, not providing help or guidance when they run into blockers or need help collaborating with other teams/departments and so on. If I were OP, I’d double-check to make sure this isn’t what is happening.

  51. Anon for this*

    I think it’s possible to walk the line and I try to do it, because I am a friendly person in a very social office but I also want to retain my authority (I’m senior management). The way I do this is by being clear about my own boundary about what I will say and how I will behave. So I will have a conversation about my dog, my weekend plans, TV, the gym, holidays, politics or whatever, and I’ll be open and authentic about my opinions and experiences up to a point *but* I don’t say anything about my private life (dating etc) or tell stories about going out drinking with my friends on the weekend etc. In terms of behavior I am invited and go to happy hours but usually leave after a couple drinks (I have sometimes stayed longer but I never get drunk). I’m not friends with any of my coworkers on social media. And I have a knack for easing myself away from a conversation that’s about to turn gossipy or simply seeming not to hear some things which are said in my presence…

    I hope that I’m seen as friendly, approachable but still the boss who commands respect… But who really knows!! I do genuinely like a lot of my coworkers and I wouldn’t want to work somewhere I had no sense of personal connection at all, but they don’t need to meet the unfiltered me, either.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Agree on the whole, but have to add that I’m very curious about what country you’re in that politics is considered small talk. I had a grandboss who’d have his work friends come over to his office, during an election year, for loud chats about the candidate opposite of the one he supported, the candidate’s multiple flaws, the candidate’s emails and so on. In his office with the door open, with my cubicle being right outside of it. Every damn day for months. In addition to being super distracting as I tried to concentrate on my work, it made me feel unsafe, not job secure, and wondering if I needed to hide my own views, or pretend they were the same as his, if I wanted to survive at that job. (I eventually outlived him at the job. He was laid off and I wasn’t.)

      1. Anon for this*

        Fair question! I’m not in the US. Thinking about it, what I really meant was conversation about current affairs, rather than partisan politics – I agree that is not appropriate office discussion. I have a general idea of where most of my coworkers land politically and they probably have the same about me, but we don’t talk about party politics.

    1. MEH Squared*

      Whoops! This was meant to be an addendum to my reply above about being aware of people being different than you.

  52. Baby Yoda*

    “You can be friendly with your boss [or reports], but you shouldn’t be familiar.”

    What a great way to sum it up.

  53. a clockwork lemon*

    One of my closest friends and mentors (from not-work) got me my current job and watching the way he networks is incredible. He goes out of his way to talk about hockey with our executive leadership team (who will never be joining us at happy hour), he remembers random tidbits about people’s kids and asks about them, etc. The end result is that he is known and liked by everyone.

    He’s the only person I’ve ever met personally who routinely fields calls from executives at other places because they remembered that time they talked at that place and thought he would be a good fit for a role. Turns out that when you’re one of many people who is great at your job, idle chit-chat about toddler silliness or why the construction on 49th street is taking so long is literally the difference between being short-listed for a job that hasn’t been announced yet and never knowing the job existed until someone else gets it.

  54. Rd*

    First you say that you are there to make money and not friends, then your feelings are hurt when they don’t include you in their friend activities. This seems to be an obvious “you can’t have it both ways” situation.

  55. Lily Potter*

    Am I the only one who sees parallels between the OP and people who say “I just want to work at home behind my computer, get my job done, log off, and be done for the day!”??

    For all the good things about remote work, one HUGE drawback (for both the worker and the company) is that it’s difficult to make those warm, cordial connections over a computer screen. Allison’s reply is spot-on about the job benefits of having those warm, cordial connections with co-workers. A remote worker that doesn’t get face time with their team (especially those that have never worked in-office with their work group) needs to work twice as hard to get to that kind of relationship with people. Lots of people working remotely now only have those personal connections because they forged them pre-pandemic. Newer workers or people who’ve taken on new jobs need to earn/re-earn their “friendliness” cred and that’s harder to do when there’s no coffeepot/watercooler/happy hours to make personal connections.

    1. foobar*

      Absolutely. I’m on a team of 20 mostly remote software engineers, and a small handful of us are friendly and sociable. The others might as well be complete robots–they don’t speak on calls unless spoken to, they don’t post on Slack, they don’t join optional social events my manager tries to set up (literally ever), etc. It’s honestly really bizarre–they might as well not exist.

      Guess who other people would rather work with, ask for help from, or lend a hand in a pinch? The person who makes zero effort to be affable, or the person who is friendly?

      I just got a raise because I was rated one of the highest performers on my team. I doubt I’m the smartest person on the team, but I’m friendly and engaging, which means other people find it easy to work with me, and the work product is better as a result.

  56. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

    I had over 25 years teaching High School Business Education in a large urban school district. During district wide meetings when I gathered with the other business teachers from the school district we discussed the future of our jobs and came to the conclusion that on a yearly basis there would be fewer and fewer of us in attendance due to restructuring due to Charter schools taking population from public schools.

    My position became one year at a time and I traveled from school to school. It made no sense for me to integrate and become overly friendly with the established staff of my new school. I was not unfriendly, but spent my days cloistered in my classroom and really did not socialize and try to make friends. I would greet others with a good morning or “How ya doin”, but little else. I was at 7 schools in 7 years ( as were many other business teachers) and after one year with an elementary school assignment, I quit although they called it retirement. I have a few friends from my long term teaching assignments and know many people, but do not miss associating with educators. My life has gone in a different direction, but when I am in the company of my former colleagues, they can only complain about school topics.

  57. CLC*

    Middle ground! In 22 years of professional life I’ve made two “real friends” at work that I see outside of work and will be friends with long term. But I’ve many, many “work friends” that I have valued my relationships with and cared about as people throughout my life, even if we no longer work together and lose touch. I don’t socialize with those people outside of work but those are the people that make going to work tolerable and even fun sometimes. I understand the impulse to shut yourself off and maintain the “I’m just here to work” attitude, but opening up just a little bit can make everything smoother. Not saying invite them to family Thanksgiving, but asking about people’s lives outside of work, joking around a bit, finding some common interests even if it’s just a TV show can actually improve the sense of teamwork and make work easier. I will also say that I have never “tried” to make real friends or work friends at work. If you open up a bit, you will naturally form relationships over time.

  58. Selina Luna*

    I struggle with this one. On the one hand, my best friend right now is someone I worked with in a previous job. He and I always hung out together and still talked all the time. On the other hand, if I could make friends outside of coworkers, that would be great. We inevitably talk shop, and it’s always exhausting to think of work. As it is, my husband and I work in the same school, and he and I also inevitably talk about work.

  59. Goldenrod*

    “I think, though, this might be less about friendship and more about warmth.”

    I think this is key! I have no interest in making new friends – not the kind I socialize with outside of work. My dance card is full.

    But, I do put effort into being warm and friendly with people at work – I think building those friendships are very important. And they are friendships – they are just casual work friends. Like Alison said, it makes the time you spend with them more pleasant.

    Also, as an EA, I consider building relationships to be pretty essential to doing my job well. When you are warm and friendly to the other assistants – and you get to know them and show that you are willing to be helpful to them – they are then helpful in turn. Then when you need something last minute, or need a favor, it’s easy to ask! These kinds of warm working relationships really help assistants to be more efficient, but of course it’s genuine as well – we genuinely enjoy working with each other.

    I would recommend to the OP that she switch jobs. Then she can start over, and try a different approach next time.

  60. DJ*

    It could be changing one’s approach to being “friendly and warm”, showing your face at the occasional work events (otherwise citing something to get to), asking others about things that are important to them i.e. kids, pets, hobbies (keeping notes of these can be helpful) will do the trick without needing to actually make friends that extend outside of work. Many people who seem to have a lot of friends at work often find they don’t last once they’ve departed from the workplace as they are truly “work acquaintanceships only”.

    It can be a chemistry/cultural mismatch. In my last job my viewpoint was the more the merrier in my section, I could describe a lot about my co workers i.e. family composition, location, interests, backgrounds culturally and career wise, showed warmth and interest, however was shunned and ignored. Some people do mistake my softly spoken voice and quiet manner. But in this case it was chemistry, parents/family orientated vs someone with no family/kids, lowest rung in the office etc.

    Feel looking for a new job for a fresh start and a new approach is the way to go. Especially as changing now would be unlikely to turn things around. But can still practice in the meantime.

  61. Sad Desk Salad*

    I think Alison nailed it with her distinction between “friendship” and “warmth.” There’s being friends and there’s being friendly. I think it’s really hard to be friends with your coworkers once you’re at a certain level. I went from being a low-level employee with tons of friends who, coincidentally, were all on my same level at a large company, to being a relatively big fish in a small pond. There, I was the only person on my level, managing one person and reporting to another, and as an extrovert, it was lonely. I was as friendly and cordial as I could be without being inappropriate, joining multiple volunteer teams within the company to get to know people better, but I definitely didn’t make friends, although I liked everyone and they seemed to like me. At my current company, I’m in the middle as well, but with one other person on my level. I like them all but wouldn’t call any of them friends. When we socialize it’s as a group, and if I brought back any of them souvenirs, it would be a group gift. My personality hasn’t changed, but my professional role has, and it’s been too hard to single out a certain person for actual friendship when that could mean someone below me feels unfairly left out, or someone above me is thinking it’s inappropriate to be my friend. It’s just too hard to balance. Fortunately I have enough real friends in my personal life to make up the deficit, so I am happy with just being friendly, and hanging out in group scenarios rather than making individual friends.

  62. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I couldn’t read AAM’s response, but I think it can be difficult these days, in certain industries, to draw the line in a comfortable place without being perceived as cold. I am not friends with co-workers, but I am friendly to co-workers. I like to have a friendly chat occasionally with co-workers about family, hobbies, what we did on the weekend, etc. I like to talk to co-workers occasionally instead of just exchanging impersonal emails and IMs. But I do not interact with co-workers outside of work.

    The hard part is that employers in my industry are demanding more demonstrations of social engagement and social participation to prove what a fun workplace it is. And some employees love that because work provides a key part of their social lives and work is where their friends are. But I don’t want to participate in those work/social activities, so I get labelled as aloof, not a team player, not buying into the culture. I want to draw the line, and I am fine with friendly interactions at work, but not fine with mandatory work parties, mandatory work social activities, etc. There is this weird emphasis now on Fun at work – these corporations make Fun one of their “core values”, then require require employees to, um, have Fun, and provide photo ops of that Fun that the corporation can post on its social media. This over-emphasis on fun corporate culture is connected to how people perceive their co-workers. Those of us who do not want our employer or co-workers as part of our social life are out of luck because our employers are insisting on this kind of social activity to “build relationships” with co-workers. These employers want employees to be friends that do friend activities (and encourage and sometimes mandate that) because it makes the corporation look like a Fun place to work.

    1. penny dreadful analyzer*

      I worked in a Fun Workplace for about six months and it was hands-down the most dysfunctional place I’ve ever worked. I made two or three actual friends there but they were all people I also had outside-of-work shared interests with.

  63. Anonymous*

    I totally agree with being warm and approachable. I think it really matters to know if a coworker is going through some “stuff” in their personal lives, which isn’t going to happen if you never spend any time chatting with them. And I think it’s almost more important for a manager to be approachable with personal issues. If you know someone has a very ill family member, is planninga wedding, has a particularly difficult baby, or is going through a bad breakup you can and should cut them some slack where possible. You can be a little warmer and show concern, ask how they’re doing, just generally show humanity. Having a manager show understanding and support and listen if you need it makes a big difference, plus managers should know what, if anything, the company offers to help. If you’re so distant that people can’t even come to you to tell you they may not be in top form it’s just not good management.

  64. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    The being friendly and seeing people more willing to make an effort for you is spot on. I’m always pleasant and friendly with everyone I work with. My boss used to disapprove of me being chatty with the freelancers I’d send work to… but then I don’t know how many times I called one to ask if they could take a job, they’d say they couldn’t, and then, sensing that this was going to be a problem for me, they’d then sigh and say, OK, I’ll do it, because it’s you asking me. If it were your boss, it’d be a flat out no”. And now that I’m one of the freelancers, it’s true that I’ll go the extra mile for someone who’s friendly to me.
    I remember once, I made a very stupid mistake, I sent out a PO for a translation into Russian, to our Russian translator, then made out a PO to our Polish translator and forgot to change the target language from Russian to Polish. What I didn’t know was that in fact the “Polish translator” was actually an agency specialising in Eastern European languages. I only realised it when they sent back the translation in Russian! Had they really only been a translator, they’d have got back to me and asked me to clarify, explaining that they didn’t do Russian. I called and explained my mistake and asked if they could pretty please do the translation into Polish, without billing for the Russian and I would be sure to try to make it up to them somehow. They agreed. A few days later, I had to find a translator for a huge job in Russian, so I sent it to them. The person who proofread Russian at the agency told me they were even better than the usual translator. So it all worked out very well (except for the usual Russian translator of course).

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