Unless you have just started a job, you know those with whom you work alongside as you go about performing your job. Are you surrounding your free time (breaks, lunch, dinner) with the same people day after day or do you change it up all the time? What does who you spend your free time with say about you?
Interestingly, who you choose to socialize with and get support from could be advantageous or hurt your chances for advancement. Suppose for example you spend the majority of your own time at work joining those in the clerks department on their coffee runs most mornings. While some people might feel that this should have no bearing on anything work-related, many others might feel you could be better served spending time with your own team of workers. Why though, when after all you’re working with them throughout the day?
The main rationale is that when you work next to someone you are both focused on the work aspect of your time together. When the time comes for lunch or breaks, were you to continue to eat together, your conversations would likely move to personal things like your families, weekend plans, upcoming holidays, opinions on things in the news. There are all kinds of real life examples where people work in a group but have very little idea of the person themselves outside of the workplace.
You might find it advantageous for example to sit down for lunch with someone you know only by voice or name that you deal with over the phone or by email too. Getting to know the person can sometimes prompt them to help you out with advanced notice of a job posting, a discount on office supplies if you’re the one who orders them or possibly changes about to come down the line.
Another reason for chatting over a meal or beverage could be just so people know a little more how you tick. Suppose you have a reputation you aren’t even aware of as being distant and aloof. Through conversations, co-workers might realize they’ve judged you wrong, or that the rumours in the workplace about you just aren’t true. By getting to know you as a person as well as a co-worker, you might find they even talk better about you to management or customers too.
Now I entirely realize that breaks and meals are down time for many; a chance to literally take a mental break. Therefore one might not be best advised to be planning an Excel spreadsheet on whom to share this time with in the organization and beyond. How you spend those moments should really be spent in ways that rejuvenate you.
I know personally that from time to time I’ve mixed things up at work and departed from my usual routine which is to have lunch with my office co-worker. While most of the time I’m happy to talk sports, family, trips, etc., every now and then I also meet up with people from outside the organization altogether. Call it a working lunch if you will, but it’s just two people sitting down face-to-face who work close enough to meet in between at an arranged site.
The first time I’ve proposed meeting, there is the usual, “What do you want to meet for?” question. I suppose that’s because so many people these days are suspicious that something is wanted of them beyond getting to know a person. Even after having met and chatted about this and that, sometimes people still end conversations with a question about whether or not I might want something of them. The answer is truthfully that just by meeting, faces can be put to names, voices to faces and profiles, and the door is open wider to helping each other out at some point in the future.
Have you ever asked your immediate supervisor to share lunch with you? Not to buy it for them or anything, but perhaps sit down together and just chat over lunch? Conversations such as these can drift back and forth between the personal and the professional. Having them get to know you as a person outside of work can be good for both you and them.
There are many of course who are more than happy to keep their personal lives and work life completely separate. They don’t aim to make friends outside of work with their colleagues, don’t get together for pool or skating parties, etc. Nothing wrong with this whatsoever unless of course you work for one of those trendy companies that believe those that work together should also play together. Make sure you fit that culture if that’s the case or you could be let go as a poor fit.
There are also those with big aspirations who target senior staff to meet with both socially and professionally. They hope and are often successful at getting promotions because they are well-known at decision time, and will be a good fit with the chemistry the decision-makers. You can spot these people easily and again, nothing wrong with knowing what you want and how to achieve it best.
There is no right or wrong with whom you spend your free time. It might be you just like to jog and so does someone else or you like to read alone. Good to think about however and realize who you spend time with and what it might say about you to others.