by Susan Wenner Jackson
Am I investing enough in "social capital" at the office? I'm a social person by nature. From a very young age, I've enjoyed chatting, yukking it up, and dishing dirt with my fellow human beings. Especially with the folks at my office—an ad agency where smart, creative, and, most importantly, funny people seem to flock in droves.
But when I became a working mom two years ago, I noticed that I suddenly had no time for "miscellaneous." Every minute of my day was consumed with purpose. In the morning, I had to haul ass to get myself and my daughter out the door. During the workday, I no longer enjoyed the "luxury" of working as late (and leisurely) as I needed to in order to hit my "end-of-day" deadlines. Evenings, I tried to squeeze as much affection and family time as I could into two hours—before my daughter went to sleep. "Night-night" for Cassie meant "second shift" for Mommy.
At the office, I quickly learned I had to be much stricter with my schedule. That meant catching up on my work emails instead of going out to lunch with my cube-mates, or a quick wave on the way back from the coffee machine rather than a five-minute hallway chat. Happy hour? Ha! Who has time for that? Sure, I missed some of the office camaraderie and shenanigans, but I couldn't dwell on it. No time. Must get stuff done.
I went along on my merry, harried way for months, until the president of my company called me out on the carpet for my antisocial attitude. OK, he wasn’t quite that harsh. He simply pointed out how a comment I had made (on one of my blogs, Working Moms Against Guilt, which he reads regularly) indicated that I consider myself too busy to socialize with my colleagues. Well … yeah, I guess sometimes I do, I confessed.
Being an extremely well-prepared and organized company president, he immediately handed me a copy of a Harvard Business Review article (a publication he also reads regularly). Perhaps you’ve seen it: “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership”? One part of the article discusses how women put themselves at a disadvantage when they sacrifice office socializing for their work/family balancing act. The author dubs this “underinvestment in social capital.”
Up until this point, sitting across from my agency’s fearless leader, I had not given much thought to the fact that my social-butterfly ways could actually help me succeed in my career. I certainly hadn’t realized that overriding my personality to be more “efficient” could hinder my professional growth—maybe even prevent a future promotion or other opportunities. But here I was, being gently prodded by a very successful mentor to be myself! Chat it up. Invest in social capital. What a concept.
Since that little discussion a few weeks ago, I’ve started to put a little more time into my hallway chats. I even made it to a happy hour last Friday! It feels good to get to know some of my newer coworkers, and reconnect with those I haven’t talked to in a while. I like being the old social me, and surprisingly, it hasn’t forced me to work longer hours or spend much less time with the fam. Social capital at the office is definitely a worthwhile investment.
Now let’s see about that promotion …