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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

The Importance of Socializing with Coworkers

Dear Sue: I am a teacher in an adult school. Although it is written in the student handbook that no food is to be consumed in the classroom, I have allowed my students to eat in my classroom during a break or at lunchtime and I have done the same. I know of several other teachers who allow this also.

The other day when my boss came in to my classroom during a break period he saw me eating a sandwich. He also noticed many of the students eating too. Later that day he informed me I was not to eat in class any longer. I agreed. He then told me that I was to eat my lunch with the other employees in the office break room and that I was also supposed to come up to the office and mingle at break times.

It's not that I donít like my fellow co-workers. I just have a stressful job, and time alone for a meal in my classroom is wonderful, and relaxing. I prefer time alone during a break and it is just what I need to complete my day. I think his requests are out of line. What if I choose to eat alone, and perhaps even off campus? I donít feel it should matter to my boss where I eat my lunch or with whom. What do you think? Do you have any suggestions?

- Patricia

Sue Says: I agree with you that your boss should not tell you who you can eat with, and unless you are required to stay in the building during lunch, you should be free to choose to eat your lunch wherever you want. However, if the school prohibits eating in the classroom for both teachers and students, then you should not be eating in the classroom. Theoretically, since you have a break room you can eat in, you should be eating there and most likely the majority of the other teachers do. I am sure there are others like you who either prefer time alone or use their lunch time to get other things done and they probably doóI donít see anything wrong with that.

You need to talk to your boss. The first thing you should do is apologize for allowing your students to eat in the classroom. This is something you knew was not permitted, but you allowed it anyway. Express your regret and assure your boss it wonít happen again. Then ask him if the same rules apply to teachers. Explain the reasons you prefer to eat in the classroom and why time alone is necessary for you and how you feel it impacts your job performance.

There is a good chance your boss doesnít really care where you eat or with whom, but does not want you eating in the classroom. Perhaps he was just letting you know that there is a place (the break room) specially designed for you to eat and take your breaks, and that you should go there, not that you must go there. However, you should ask for clarification.
Assuming you have more freedom than your boss made it sound you do, my recommendation is that you vary your routine and make an attempt to eat and take breaks in the break room every now and then. You can still spend time alone the majority of your break time by yourself, but if you do it all the time you risk appearing uninterested in others and unapproachable. When you show up once in awhile you will appear less distant and part of the team. It may help if you explain to others the reason you frequently choose to eat alone to ensure no one takes your absence personally or thinks you donít enjoy their company.

I understand it may not be what you want to do, but it is important for you to stay connected with others and not isolate yourself all the time. Youíd be surprised how much you can benefit by mingling with the other teachers. You will gain information, stay informed about what is going on and may even gain insight that will help you resolve some of the challenges you face. Camaraderie with coworkers is an important and beneficial aspect of any job. It may even be just what you need to relieve some of the stress.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at asksue@suemorem.com or visit her web site at http://www.suemorem.com

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
For more Ask Sue articles, click here.

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