How to socialize with coworkers if you are not friends

For some of us, socializing with coworkers after work can seem like an unpaid second job we did not sign up to do. Shouldn’t it be enough to do our job and head home?

But as many studies have hammered home, networking opportunities can happen outside of regular office hours. If we want to build our cultural capital in the office so that we can get our ideas promoted in the office, we need to be remembered favorably. And that means socializing.

But you don’t need to be best friends with a coworker to do this. Here’s how to do friendly socializing with your coworkers without necessarily becoming friends with them:

Participate in team-building events or clubs

Socializing does not mean forcing yourself to attend parties and drinking outings that do not suit your personality. In fact, research has found that company mixers are not always the best way to build relationships with unfamiliar coworkers, because people at mixers tend to bond with people who are more similar to them.

But if your company hosts a team sport or a board game club and you enjoy these activities, go ahead and invite yourself.

The power of play is not to be underestimated. Making the workplace a fun space can even make it a more productive one.

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, found that “when employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement, and morale.”

Get coffee or lunch

When your colleague asks you to get drinks after work, it’s understandable to feel hesitant. Men and women are both leery of getting one-on-one drinks and dinners with colleagues after work, acutely aware that a situation could turn sexual, or into a case of sexual harassment, according to a recent survey.

So avoid that pressure and do a food and drink activity that is still within work hours and does not involve alcohol. Getting coffee or lunch with your coworker is a low-stakes way that you can get to know each other better. And research has found that eating together with your coworkers is proven to foster collegial goodwill.

“Firms can encourage cooperation among coworkers by leveraging the mundane and powerful need to eat,” one study examining workers who ate together states.

Find what kind of socializing works for you

Above all, recognize that these bonds don’t have to be deep to be meaningful. They just mean showing mutual respect and paying attention to each other.

One study on workplace relationships found that high-quality connections between colleagues did not have to be intimate to be beneficial — they just need to be mutual and open to listening. “Like a healthy blood vessel that connects parts of our body, a high-quality connection between two people allows the transfer of vital nutrients; it is flexible, strong, and resilient,” the study stated.

You know yourself best — learn to socialize on your own terms, whether that means being a regular to the weekly happy hour or the coworker who gets one-on-one coffees with new team members.