Workplace Doctor: I’m not invited to work social outings in Dubai

Debbie Nicol helps a new member of staff break into the office social gatherings.

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I'm new to Dubai — I arrived two months ago to join a small media company. I have noticed that the majority of my colleagues get together for a work social event on a Thursday evening. However, that invitation is never extended to me. Instead, they call out "goodbye" to me as they head off to whichever venue has been selected for that week. I know very few people here in the UAE and would like to join in with work social outings. How can I get myself invited without seeming desperate for social company, which I am? DF, Dubai

Welcome to Dubai DF. It’s amazing what this wonderful city does to you and before you know it, you’ll be uttering ‘I only came for one year and it’s five already’. It is tough to be new, and while we want to fit in straight away there’s always an element of acceptance to navigate. It’s almost as if one needs to deserve the right to be invited out with the gang.

There’s two sides to every story and I see them both clearly in your situation: the team trying to understand and accept you and you trying to understand and accept the team.

An existing group has an existing energy, norms, priorities and modus operandi, written or otherwise. In some groups these are considered sacrosanct and are forbidden to be diluted, mutated or transformed in any way. Other groups are more willing to open and change, and to what degree your situation fits on this spectrum is unknown to me.

However, to gain perspective let’s consider that the group was not as it currently is from day one. As new people joined the workplace, they gradually became group members. Some type of connection or impetus has allowed each individual to become “acceptable” to the group. So why not consider the level of interaction you’ve had or can have in the future with each member of the group?

After all it is inevitable that each of them will be sharing their individual experience with you to each other. Ask yourself what degree of connection you have felt with them as individuals and to what degree you have opened to them beyond the job tasks. These are two likely criteria they will be discussing about you, like it or not.

On the flip side, let’s look at the level of curiosity you have demonstrated to get to know them during work hours. When working on a project are you task-focused only, or have you been showing an interest in them, their achievements, their length of service etc? In essence, if you show them a level of respect for them as individuals as well as colleagues, it may well allow them to interpret that as your interest to get closer. It’s clear that they know you exist, as they are talking to you with the simple “goodbye”.

However, there’s talking and there’s talking – it’s how they are talking that will be your greatest clue for now. Is it dripping with sarcasm as if to say: “Yeah, we’re out of here and leave you to do all the dirty work” or rather a pleasant “We’re off for a fun evening” and are wondering how you will react to that?

Having said all of the above, I wish to throw two questions into the mix for you to consider. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you formed out-of-work social options? What’s the best thing that could happen if you socialised only with people from work? If there’s nothing really bad that comes from the first question, why not explore the countless avenues for social gatherings in Dubai such as Meetups, Internations, interest-based clubs such as sports or dining or plain old community halls such as The Pavilion in Downtown, to name but a few.

And, let’s face it, two months in — if it hasn’t happened already, perhaps it’s just not meant to be. Could it be time to stand on your own two feet and forge new paths — who knows how much better they may be than the old well-travelled ones?

When it’s meant to be, it will be.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of the Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

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