One of my employees is good at his job but tends to keep to himself. He is cordial but won’t go out for after-work drinks and seldom leaves his seat for in-office celebrations. It’s starting to rub some people the wrong way and they don’t think of him as a team player. How can I broach this topic with him and bring him out of his shell?
Sincerely, Looking out for the loner
Dear Looking Out,
Although you might want to be friends with your employees and get to know them outside the office, it does not necessarily mean that they want to be friends with you. This may sound neither nice nor fair, but from my personal experience, I find that some people just prefer to separate their career from their private life. And that’s okay.
Don’t take it personally
Most likely, nobody in the office is the reason for his reluctance to join the group for in-house or after-hours gatherings, so try not to take his aloofness personally. He may be dealing with a personal problem he doesn’t want to share with the rest of the group. Or perhaps he has other responsibilities that leave little or no time for social interaction. He could have a small child at home or a commitment that takes up much of his free time. It could be a money issue or he may be a teetotaler. It's best not to make these after-hour gatherings mandatory.
Consider his feelings
As for in-office celebrations, your co-worker may just be shy or find it difficult to make conversation with others, or perhaps he eschews holidays for personal or religious reasons. He may simply be worried he’ll say or do the wrong thing, or that his colleagues won’t (or don’t) like him. It could be self-confidence or self-esteem issues that are coming into play.
However, if you would truly like to know the reason why he’s avoiding these events, there is only one thing you can do:
Have a candid conversation.
Being direct and respectful in speaking to your co-worker about your concern is a much better option than allowing others to talk about him behind his back.
If you ignore your concerns, it may lead to more problems over time and affect work or the workplace, especially given that some of your colleagues already have an issue with his behavior. Until you speak to him privately, you will never know his actual issue or concern.
Have a friendly conversation and tell him that you miss his presence and would like to see him participate more often. You don’t necessarily have to ask him why he turns down your invitations. Tell him how it makes you or the others feel. But be sure to do so in a discreet and respectful manner.
If he says he’s simply not interested, then you should accept his response and back off. There is no point in pushing the issue since these events are not mandatory. Just keep your relationship on a professional level and try not to bear any grudges. Also, keep inviting him, as you would all your other employees. Don’t exclude him from the invitation; let him make the choice to attend. Then, if he changes his mind, tell him how happy you are that he decided to participate.
If possible, you might even try asking him to lunch, just the two of you. He may be more at ease in one-on-one settings, and this might be the start of making him feel more comfortable in other settings.
In an office environment, people of all personality types must learn to work, and interact, together. Since he is a good employee and he has a good work ethic, be friendly, yet allow him the opportunity to choose whether to interact or not. Not everyone is a social butterfly, so let him fly solo.
If you have a business etiquette question for Jacqueline, email her at Jackie@EtiquetteExpert.com.