My team likes to go out for lunch or after-work drinks. I like everyone and want to be a team player, but I am too busy. How do I turn down these invitations without seeming like I am not a team player?
Signed, Friendly But Busy
Dear Friendly But Busy,
If your only reason for spending time with your colleagues is to be perceived as a team player, you may resent carving out time for them. Instead, focus on the fact that getting to know your coworkers is a benefit to you because it helps you to deepen the ties in your professional network, says workplace psychologist Dr. Natalia Peart, author of FutureProofed: How to Navigate Disruptive Change, Find Calm in Chaos, and Succeed in Work & Life.
Once you see the benefit for yourself, you can then figure out other ways to meet that objective. If personal obligations such as child care or another commitment keep you from taking part in the after-work gatherings, let your coworkers know that. Then suggest other ways that you can spend a little time with team members one-on-one, such as grabbing a cup of coffee early in the morning. Every so often, make a point to be at a key event, Dr. Peart says. If key team members see you making a genuine effort to get to know them, they’ll feel like you’re part of the team whether you make every happy hour or not. As Dr. Peart says, “If you are doing an effective job of getting to know people informally, it really is not as big a deal if you can’t do something.