Colleague vs Coworker: What’s the Difference?

Colleague vs coworker are the terms interchangeable? While both describe someone you work with they each have a unique meaning. Here’s when you should use in each and examples by industry.

What Do these Words Mean?

When you call someone a colleague, you’re referring to an individual that’s in the same department as you or the same rank. It’s basically someone you work with more closely with at the office.

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On the other hand, a coworker could be someone from another department or profession. Let’s say that you’re an accountant in your company, if you say that you want to consult with your coworkers, you’re referring to someone from either the marketing team or sales or any other professionals that work in the same organization as you, but are not accountants.  

What are the similarities between a Colleague and a Coworker?

You cannot refer to someone as a colleague or coworker if they’re not in the same rank as you. If you are in a managerial position, you cannot call the janitor or security guard your colleagues or coworkers. They are your subordinates. The same goes for your boss. You should call them your superiors.

Being in the same rank means that you use certain words for each other. There is a common jargon amongst colleagues and coworkers.

Colleagues and coworkers are people that you work with. You represent the same organization and follow the rules of that company. You also share an office culture with your colleagues and coworkers. For example, if the norm is to have departmental meetings every Friday, your colleagues and coworkers will also go through the same experience.

What are the Differences?

The difference between colleagues and coworkers varies from one organization and profession to another. The following is a list of 7 different fields to show the contrast between the two terms.

Law

If you work in a law firm as an attorney, your colleague is someone that works with you in the same cases. They help you with the research, you exchange ideas together so that you can come up with the best argument for your client.

The gentleman or woman from the IT department that helps you fix connection issues is your coworker. The accountant is also your coworker. These are people you see in the office every day, but you are not that close with them. The only common denominator is the law firm.

Medicine

If you are a physician, your colleagues are those people that you interact with daily. They are in the same rank, and you sometimes do surgeries together. 

Your coworkers in this case are the nurses. You are not that close, but you assist one another from time to time. Notice how in some professions like medicine, coworkers work with each other more often because they are dealing with human lives.

Software Development

If you’re a coder or back-end developer, your colleague is more likely to be a front-end developer because you’ll be working on the same projects.

Assuming that you work for an ad agency, the seo specialists and copywriters are your coworkers. You share the same office space, but the scope of work is different. Also, you’re unlikely to consult them on anything.

Marketing

If you work in the marketing department, your colleague is someone on the same team as you. You both work towards a common short-term departmental goal. For example, you can launch a marketing campaign together with your colleagues.

Anyone from the sales or customer service desk is a coworker. You only see each other at general meetings or talk to each other when you need clarity on something that affects your department and theirs.

Education

If you’re a teacher in a district school, your colleagues help you plan lessons. You also consult them when you need information on curriculum changes.

Coworkers are teachers like you, but they teach different classes. You rarely talk to each other because you serve different crowds.