columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

​A reader asks:

I'm writing this question because of feedback received from an exit interview.

A woman in her mid-30s left my department after a little over a year. When giving her notice, she commented that she was taking a job closer to home (she had an hour commute each way some days) and had wanted to go back to a position closer to her original line of work. We were sad to see her go.

HR sent me the results of her exit interview and wanted to discuss "the cultural problems on my team." In the exit interview, this employee mentioned that my staff leaves at lunch one day per week to go to a brewery for a beer run (which is true, I allow this) and she was often the only team member in the office. She said her fellow associates were unwilling to assist her and spent time on social media, creating an exclusive environment (she was more quiet, older than the 20somethings in the position, and not as much into social media).

I don't feel like this is a cultural issue; I think this was her not being a good fit for our team. I do allow my staff to go to breweries as long as they have coverage. I encourage my staff to be friends in- and outside of work, and I cannot monitor relationships. At no point did the employee bring this to my attention during our informal one-on-ones. She was extremely quiet and kept to herself, and she didn't mingle with the team because of her commute and commitments she had (she's married with a kid and had recently bought a house).

Am I in the wrong or is the former employee just out of touch with how a team of professional Millennials works?

Green responds:

Yeah, you're in the wrong!

If you're determining that someone isn't a good fit for you team because they're 10 years older than everyone else and have outside-of-work commitments, that's a problem. That mindset means that you'll be screening out anything resembling a diverse staff. You want people who come from different walks of life and have different/more experiences and perspectives. That will make your team stronger. (What you're doing now can also end up being discriminatory in a legal sense, depending on the specifics of how it plays out.)

This is the kind of thing that has given the term "culture fit" a bad name -- because you're using it to mean "people who fit in here are all in the same age group and stage of life" ... as opposed to more legitimate uses of the term, which are things like "people who fit in here care passionately about making customers happy" or "people who fit in here have a sense of urgency and drive work forward at a fast pace."

The brewery thing isn't necessarily a problem. But if it's indicative of an environment where people who don't fit a narrowly defined idea of "culture" won't feel comfortable, that's a problem. And, for what it's worth, a weekly beer run is ... well, a very specific type of culture, so if you're doing that, you want to make sure that it's a deliberate choice to build that particular culture, and that you can defend it.

People spending time on social media isn't a big deal in many jobs, but if your former employee is right that people weren't willing to help her and were spending lots of time on social media, that's something you should look at.

And this jumps out at me: "I encourage my staff to be friends in- and outside of work." That's an odd overstepping of boundaries. Of course you should encourage people to have warm, collaborative relationships with colleagues. But specifically encouraging friendships? If people develop friendships on their own, that's lovely. But that's a different thing than your actively encouraging it, especially outside of work. Combined with the other details in your letter, this sounds to me like you might be emphasizing the social connections on your team at the expense of professionalism and inclusivity.

So, yes, I think your HR department is right to be concerned. You need to be able to hire a diverse staff -- people with kids, people with long commutes, people who are older, people from different cultures or economic backgrounds, people who don't drink, people with varying degrees of introversion or extroversion -- and have them able to work comfortably on your team.

Right now, you sound too comfortable with writing off people who don't fit in socially with other staff, and you're prizing social connections too strongly.

To be clear, social connections can have real value. They can keep people happy at work, and they can make it easier for people to work together harmoniously. But they don't trump the other stuff I'm talking about here.

Right now, it sounds like you have the balance wrong, and that's what HR is concerned about.

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