Advice column: is office chitchat more important than getting on with the job?
I am increasingly becoming disillusioned by the “politics” in the office. I joined the team over six months ago, but I am finding it difficult to fit into the rigid hierarchical system. There is an expectation that we should all laugh at the jokes of the senior partner and, more frustratingly, leave our work in order to listen to him speak about the enduring problems he is having with his horses! I made the mistake of not joining in the conversation last week as I was trying to finish revising an important document, but I was later reprimanded by the senior partner. He commented that he had noticed that I was not making the effort to “socialise”. I have a strong work ethic and like to focus on my work and I don’t appreciate having to make time for small talk in such situations. I am a very sociable person outside work and don’t see why I need to pretend to be interested in the senior partner’s life in order to progress?
The key to progressing within a typical office environment is to strike a balance between working efficiently and developing a social or “likeability” factor. This is of course easier said than done!
The truth of the matter is that the senior partners will hold the key to your eventual progression within the department and therefore there is an inevitable expectation that you will require to socialise and be personable as well as focusing upon your work. Being good at your job is important but it is only part of the requirements.
A wise friend once explained to me how he had declined to appoint a candidate with a first class honours degree in favour of a candidate with a lower class of degree, as the first candidate had been less open and talkative at the interview and had on many occasions failed to even make eye contact. He felt it was important that the person selected was able to fit into the team, and this was more important than merely academic credentials.
I therefore suggest that you begin to view the sociable chitchat as an integral part of your job. In this way, you will hopefully come to appreciate its significance and perhaps even learn to enjoy it, although if you are not particularly into horses, perhaps with a visit to the library to brush up on your equestrian knowledge beforehand!