Socialising At Work: A Discretionary Spend or Fundamental Investment?

As working parents, we will always choose spending time with family over work colleagues, but as Lucy shares, you can't say no to everything. Here are her tips surviving and making the most out of the occasions we choose.

The day had team drinks scheduled after work, something completely routine in the working world, but nothing is routine for me anymore. My thoughts progress through a now predictable sequence.

Thoughts ranging from “Sorry, guys I can’t go” or “Yep, ok I will go and rearrange things at home” or “I’ll come for 1 but I’ve got 16.75 minutes to get to the pub, drink and leave to make the very last train before pick up. I can do this” or “It’s all too hard, I’m not going to go. I just can’t risk missing that train.”

Drinks after work are much better for team building than a lunch where everyone has to bolt back to their desks. It’s not meant to be a great source of diary management anxiety and yet it can be another catalyst for feeling like you’re letting people down, and here we are…

So where does socialising at work fit in now? Do I allocate a bit of my discretionary time budget or is it a non-negotiable smart investment?

This is my new professional “normal”. I’m a part-time working mum so I’m in the office only a few days a week. On my work days, I’m in charge of the daycare pickups. I’m going to assume you’re good at math and you’ve probably done the calculations by now, but what this means is that my time at work is pretty limited, tightly scheduled. And when I’m there I want to make it count.

So, for me, TIME has become much more of an actual resource that needs to be managed and allocated carefully, a bit like the marketing budget.

In my pre-baby work days, I’d be the first person to sign up for any training course, big meeting or coffee catch up. I was the one organising the social club drinks. I had a WHOLE WEEK to play around with and maintaining my relationships was a top priority.

Different story now. I find myself applying the exact same business thinking to time-spend as other restricted resources. I weigh up every invite and task allocation with “If I say yes to that, what will I be unable to do?” or “If I spend an hour doing X now, what will go down the list?”.

Here’s a bit of an inside peek at the look at the general thought trail my mind goes down when a social Outlook invite pops up.

My mouse immediately goes to hover over the DECLINE button because:

  • These social occasions are always scheduled at the most inconvenient times for me (days I’m not in and have no care, in the evening across pick up/dinner/bath/bed). Is the event worth the upheaval to everyone else’s routine or even the cost of a sitter?
  • Will I be learning anything new?, Meeting new people? Or will it be just hearing the story about Jane’s trip to Ikea in greater technicolour detail?
  • I barely have time to see my real best friends and loved ones, so why would I want to spend a precious night out with people I’ve already spent all day within the cube-farm?
  • I really enjoy my baby’s company and miss her when I’m at work so I’m surprisingly keen to be reunited with her at the end of the day
  • The most exciting things going on in my life at the moment are “did Emma from the Wiggles change her hair?” so is anyone from work really going to miss me if I’m not there to natter with?
  • I want my performance at work to be judged on my professional output now, not by how much people want to hang out with me
  • I’m tired, really really tired, I just don’t feel like it
  • I know these some of these are genuine and some are a bit sulky and point to my insecurities.

Which is why I then take a moment to think of the bigger picture, more of the sensible and practical reasons so my mouse then hovers over the ACCEPT button:

  • I work hard and am a strong performer so I deserve a chance to relax, unwind
  • My colleagues are real people too, with things going on in their life just like me, why is my discretionary time more important than theirs?
  • Maybe my colleagues actually like my company and would like to spend some time “off-the-clock” with me
  • Showing colleagues you care for an hour over a lukewarm bottle of overpriced SSB might buy 6 months of professional goodwill once back in the office
  • I get to reclaim another small snippet of the pre-baby me – see she didn’t really fall down a black hole, did she!
  • “Oh Mary, what you were just talking about is so fascinating, I’ve been doing my own reading on it.” or  “If you’re so passionate, why don’t you come and sit on our committee? I’ll send you an invite in the morning.” Say no more. ..I’ve got some serious rebuilding to do.

Sometimes it really is good to have adult conversations that aren’t about kids, and let’s face it, if you were hanging out with your besties that’s what it would come back to anyways.

When I returned to work, I was really surprised at how complex my feelings now were towards something that used to be a no-brainer. My feelings still churn around and different elements of this thinking rise to the top at different points in the year. They are also entirely dependent on what is happening in your team/workplace, your rapport with your colleagues and your family set up at home. Everyone’s situation here will be different.

So how do I end up managing it?

I tend to have a loose 1 in 5 rule. I know I can’t say no to everything. I’ve also been a bit more inventive with the look and feel of the team celebration events I organise so that it works for everyone. Find me someone who doesn’t like a Champagne Breakfast 😉


Lucy – FlexCareers Community member, Full-time Mum, Part-time Professional. Career Support and Recruitment Practitioner, Business Operations Manager. Mastering the art of keeping lots of balls firmly in the air and service to a whole bunch of people around a 24hour clock. Coffee, Milo and wine are helping lots, not necessarily in that order.


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