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Socializing After Work

Feb. 1, 2008
Dear Dianne,I have been in hygiene for 16 years, and I enjoy my work. However, I have become very frustrated and unhappy over an office situation.

By Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS

Dear Dianne,

I have been in hygiene for 16 years, and I enjoy my work. However, I have become very frustrated and unhappy over an office situation.

The problem in my office is bickering and gossiping between staff members. It all started when we began spending time together outside the office. Two of my co-workers got into a disagreement that somehow spread to all of us, including the doctor. There is so much disharmony at the office that I truly dread going to work. Every day is a new day of drama!

I have decided that I do not want to hang out with my co-workers outside the office, nor do I wish to exchange holiday gifts. How do I tell my co-workers how I feel without hurting someone’s feelings?

Debbie in Dover

Dear Debbie,

At this point, it sounds like it is too late to worry about hurting someone’s feelings. I’ll wager there are abundant hurt feelings already.

Your office dilemma is one that is replayed every day in offices across the country. Staff members start spending too much time together. Someone gets jealous, someone gets her feelings hurt, someone is prone to gossip, then two or three gather against one. Divide and conquer becomes the game plan for the disputing parties. Whereas men settle conflict by punching each other out, women are like cats that hiss and growl at each other and raise their hackles. Neither sight is pretty.

Having good camaraderie at the office with co-workers makes coming to work more pleasurable. Discord at the office makes a person dread going to work. Doctors with a group of staff members who all get along with each other well have a valuable commodity that many offices lack. One staff member with a proclivity to gossip is like one rotten potato in a sack of otherwise good ones. It makes the whole bag stink. The only remedy is to get rid of the bad potato!

The problem with socializing with co-workers after work is that if there is a dispute, it will inevitably be brought into the office. An atmosphere of tension is created that makes work more difficult, and this can negatively affect the care we give our patients.

Further, it is disturbing that the doctor is involved as well. He or she should know that under most circumstances, socializing on a regular basis with staff members can lead to undermining the doctor’s authority and loss of respect. It is not prudent.

Since most dental offices have a small group of staff members and often work in close quarters, it is easy to let little frustrations get under our skin. We all need to develop other social networks outside the work group. If a work group functions well together during the day, staff members should not risk spoiling their work relationship by socializing after work.

I think you are wise to put some distance between you and your co-workers socially, but please do not isolate yourself in the work environment. Always be cordial, kind, and offer to help your co-workers when you have the opportunity. Do something nice for the whole group, like bringing in something to eat to share with all of them. Brag on your doctor’s work in front of him or her occasionally. Thank your scheduling coordinator for keeping your schedule full. Treat your co-workers as you would like to be treated. Do this consistently over time. The thing is, you can’t change other people, but you can change yourself.

To stop the cycle of gossip, you have to make a promise to yourself that you will not engage in any discussions about any other co-workers, including the doctor – period. If someone comes to you with gossip, simply tell the person that he or she should redirect comments to the only person who can do something about the problem, namely the offending party. Your co-workers will respect you all the more if you do not participate in any gossip.

I like the truth, tempered with understanding and compassion. If I did not want to socialize or exchange gifts, I would say, “Thanks for asking, but I really need some ‘chill’ time. I hope you will not think badly of me for declining.”

Many years ago, my family and two other families rented a beach house together for a week in the summer. Our children all played well together, our husbands liked to fish, and we girls liked to shop and lay on the beach with a good book. It was a time we all looked forward to each summer. We did this for about six years in a row. Since my husband worked unusual hours, it was hard for my family to socialize much otherwise, but the other two couples started spending a lot of time together. I sensed there would be a “falling out” eventually, and sure enough, it happened. There were harsh words that cut to the bone between my two friends, and our threesome was ruined forever. The trouble started when the other two couples started spending too much time together.

My hope is that this storm will eventually blow over. The lesson learned is that when any group spends too much time together, disputes are likely. It is preferable to develop social networks outside the work group, and never engage in backbiting or gossip.

Best wishes,

About the Author

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Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. She is CEO of Professional Dental Management, based in Frederick, Md. To contact Glasscoe for speaking or consulting, call (301) 874-5240 or e-mail [email protected]. Visit her Web site at