Q: I am a young working professional on a team with others around my age. We get along great! The only problem is that the team is always trying to do happy hours and outings outside the office. I prefer not to mix business with pleasure. I just want to come in to work, do my job and leave. I am in graduate school and already spend eight-plus hours with these people at the office. I have my own friends and don't want to blur the lines between the groups. How do I put it politely that I have other people I'd rather spend my time with and that I want to see a different set of faces at the end of the day? I'd like to avoid team outings altogether without anyone getting offended or thinking I'm not a "team player," as we work so well together.
A: If there's a polite way to say, "Eight hours of your faces every day is quite enough for me, thanks," I haven't heard it. Of course, your grad school course load provides a perfect excuse to beg off. But I can think of worse work-related obligations than having to spend an occasional hour sipping a discounted beer in the company of people I "get along great!" with. Think of it as banking goodwill with folks who might someday be in a position to help you out. If you need more incentive, make dinner plans with your real friends and use happy hour as a way station between work and where you really want to be.
Or you could swap jobs with the next contributor . . .
Q: I work in a smallish office. For some reason, people never ask me to join them for lunch. They don't seem to mind if I come along, but they never invite me, and when I ask, no one ever wants to go. (They're pretty polite about declining.) I know they're co-workers and not friends, but it still stings. Do I just need to get over this, or are there tips for smoothly integrating yourself into a workplace clique?
A: People in a circle tend to face inward. Either your co-workers have their heads wedged so far in their associative habits that your friendly overtures haven't registered, or they simply aren't interested in expanding their flock. Being generally cheerful, helpful and willing to make occasional coffee runs may help people warm to you — but when you're repeatedly rebuffed, even politely, it's best to back off and focus on forming one-on-one bonds. In the meantime, make your own lunchtime plans with actual friends. Seeing a familiar face in the middle of a lonely day can be a lifesaver.
Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.