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The question

My workplace functions on an 'in-crowd' system – just like high school. If you go drinking with the boss and the cool kids, then you pretty much have free rein.

My boss will regularly drop by to chat with a certain colleague. They'll often go for a smoke, grab a coffee, and so on. She inevitably gets higher-profile projects, despite the fact that I have more experience, more education and have been with the company longer. She makes obvious mistakes, but if I try to negotiate changes, or in any way act to correct them, my boss tells me I have a "bad attitude."

I would go out and "party" but frankly, even for political/workplace gain, I simply can't justify the drain on my budget and limited free time. Any suggestions on how to cope with this until I can find something better?

The answer

Some of what I'm about to say is going to cause my inner teenager to shake his shaggy mane, roll his bloodshot eyes and exhale a column of smoke as he says, "Dude, listen to yourself, man. What have you become?"

But I'm going to say it anyway.

When I started out in the workforce, I felt the same way you do now – that is to say, I didn't particularly want to socialize with my colleagues or my boss.

I said to myself: a) I'm just going to keep my head down and do a good job, and remain "above" petty bickering and office politics; and b) after spending the whole day with this bunch of stiffs, I'm supposed to go out with them at night, too? Gag, fuhgeddaboudit.

Part of the problem was that all everyone wanted to discuss when we went out was sports, an arena of human endeavour I've never given a stinking, steaming crap about. All those Gilmours and Fluties – I never knew who my colleagues were talking about, or sometimes even which sport.

So when the whistle blew at work, I got the hell out of there and hung with my homeys.

After a while, I noticed that those obedient drones who went out with the boss, even ones with demonstrably less talent, got preferment over me.

Then, a little while after that, I noticed I was out on the street, with no job.

It was a hard lesson, and that's the kind that sticks with you. So I hate to be the one telling you this, but I'm afraid skill and hard work and whatever else you mentioned (education? seniority?) aren't enough.

Sister, you have to play the game.

In some cultures, they make no bones about it. While this may be changing, traditionally, a staff member would go out at least two or three nights with the boss until the wee hours. Then get up at dawn and back to work. Sometimes sleep under their desks. No real personal life. Their wives practically widows.

I'm not saying you should turn yourself into a super-workaholic. Just that socializing is part of work culture.

It's human nature: We give stuff to people we know and like (and trust), even if there may be someone quietly keeping her head down, doing a better job in the cubicle next door.

There is no such thing as being "above" office politics or socializing with your workmates. As you say, it's like high school: Basically, you're either an insider or an outsider.

Of course, it's possible to over-mingle. Some executives will drink oceans of vodka with their boss, the idea being you can trust someone when you've seen him "sideways" and inside out (with maybe some of his insides coming out and splashing on the sidewalk).

But I'd advise against going "sideways" when you go out with workmates. Remember, you're still being judged – you're still at work, really.

Keep it under control. Just have a couple. Show your boss the human face behind the workaday mask, but keep it surgical. That's showbiz: Leave 'em wanting more.

Sounds like a couple is all you can afford anyway, so it works out all around.

But not to go out with your boss and colleagues at all? That's what they call a "false economy."

Maybe if you suck it up and butter up your boss a bit more, he'll give you a job where you make more money and thus can afford all this extracurricular action.

Who knows? You might actually have fun while you're at it.

If not – if you really can't stand it – by all means keep looking for something else. Keep chasing that elusive ideal: work you love with people you love. Bonne chance!

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control, the book.

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