Boundaries for people who have a hard time with boundaries, Part 4. (Limit happy hours with coworkers.)

To maintain separation between work and home life, limit happy hours with coworkers.

I think that SOME happy hours with coworkers is a good thing.  It is a nice way to bond with people that perhaps you do not have informal interaction with throughout the day, and it is fun to have friends at work that you share more than just the work day with.  However, I believe that it is healthy to keep them limited.

In my first year of teaching, I was invited into the “happy hour” crew, which actually went out for drinks pretty much every single Friday afternoon of the year.  I really didn’t do anything else on Fridays because after I left happy hour, I felt so disgusting from the long work week and too many drinks and terribly greasy bar food that I just wanted to sleep for 10 hours and feel normal again.  I cancelled a lot of Friday evening plans that year due to the endless happy hours.

I went to so many happy hours mostly to get to know Handsome US History teacher, who is now my husband (and, I found out later, he went to so many of them to get to know me…we stopped going to so many once we stated dating).  I also wanted to get to know people at my school, and in a new city in general.  I was flattered to be asked out and have a way to meet friends.

After awhile, though, I kind of dreaded these happy hours.  I still went, because that was my social group and the typical way to spend Friday evening.  But that was the problem.  That was now my primary social group, and pretty much the only way I spent Friday evening.  I felt very isolated if I didn’t go out with them one week, because I invested so much of my social energy in that group of people.

The other problem is, when you go out with work people all the time after work, what do you end up talking about mostly?  Work.  The one thing you all have in common.  The conversation may go other places but it always inevitably comes back to work, and even on Friday afternoon when you all have escaped the place you spent all week, you really haven’t left work.  In fact, sometimes new work ideas sprout up and partnerships are formed and you find yourself invested in MORE work.  And you can’t really turn it down, because these are your friends, and you don’t want to create negative vibes.

Moreover, going out with the same people and talking about work with the same people tends to develop a sort of inbred mentality towards work that you find it hard to escape.  Perhaps you never felt hostility towards your boss or a coworker before, but now that you are hearing gossip of what they said or did to someone else, you begin to form an idea in your mind of how they are without even realizing it.  Maybe you felt excited about implementing something new in your class and seeing how the kids will respond, but slowly the pessimism of the group erodes your enthusiasm and you begin to view the students as lazy and indolent.  It could, of course, work the other way around, and your negative views could be made more positive through interacting with your peers.  However, coworkers who go out to happy hour every Friday are usually not the most optimistic about work, and this positive energy transfer rarely happens.  I think that it often works negatively, and negative energy is all too easily absorbed.

To keep a healthy perspective on work and to maintain some mental and emotional distance from work, don’t spend every Friday at happy hour with coworkers.  Some weeks, sure.  But then do other things, see other friends, cultivate other interests.  As they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and if you are never absent from work, your attitude about it will likely deteriorate quickly.

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