Colleague vs. Coworker: What’s the Difference?

The terms colleague and coworker are often used interchangeably in the workplace. However, do they have the same meaning? Perhaps, you often get confused about when to use colleague vs. coworker.

While the two have several similarities, they are still slightly different. The terms coworker and colleague can both be used to refer to people you work with. However, you cannot consider all your coworkers as your colleagues.

We understand how confusing this is. So, we’ve put together this article to shine some light on how you can correctly use each term in the workplace.

Colleague vs. Coworker: What’s the Difference?

What are colleagues?

In general, a colleague is someone you work with. Despite having different skills, roles, and ranks, they share the same professional goals as you have. So, you can use the term to refer to any person within a group of people that work together.

Meanwhile, the word colleague can also refer to people within the same profession. You can work in different organizations, but you have similar work responsibilities, skills, and roles.

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What are coworkers?

Now, if you work with a person under the same company, you can call them your coworker. You may have different roles, work ethics, and specializations. However, because you’re both team players who are working towards the success of your organization, you are coworkers.

Let’s say a project manager, social media specialist, content writer, sales representative, and building custodian work for the same company. In that case, they are all coworkers.

Colleague vs. coworker: How are they different?

colleague vs. coworker

Now, that we’ve defined the terms, let’s discuss the main differences between a colleague vs. coworker.

  • Your colleagues will have similar tasks as you do. You may even share the same level of collaboration skills or proficiency in verbal communication. Meanwhile, your coworker may be under the same organization as you are, but you have entirely different responsibilities.
  • While you and your coworkers are employed by the same company, you don’t necessarily have the same roles. On the other hand, your colleagues have the same rank as you do.
  • You may work with your colleagues regularly. So, you likely know them on a deeper level. However, your coworkers may come from a different department or company location. It’s also possible that you haven’t met them before. Perhaps, you have only encountered them in a company-wide event.
  • A colleague may hold the same position as you do, but they work for a different company. Meanwhile, your coworker is employed by the same organization as you are.

Why it’s important to know the difference between colleague vs. coworker

An article published on SHRM reported that miscommunication can cost organizations an average of $420,000 per year. As such, it’s important that roles and duties in a company are properly communicated. When you’re in a critical meeting, you don’t want to refer to your manager as your colleague or peer. Of course, this is rarely a problem in today’s ever-dynamic workplace. However, in more conventional corporate companies, many people still value traditional roles.

When you understand the difference between your colleague vs. your coworker, you can build stronger relationships in the workplace. After all, you know how to interact with the person according to their role. For instance, it’s not uncommon for professionals to be closer to their colleagues than their coworkers.

According to Gallup’s research, people who have friends at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged in their tasks. Now, with colleagues, you can share casual conversations and have a hearty laugh during watercooler breaks. Meanwhile, since you don’t necessarily work on the same projects, you don’t share the same level of relationship with your coworkers. When they’re from a different department, you may even feel the need to watch what you’re saying when speaking with them.

Also, when you’ve properly identified your colleagues, you know who to turn to for specific tasks, concerns, or issues. Your work becomes easier because you understand people’s roles in the workplace.

Colleagues vs. Coworkers in Specific Professional Settings

To help you understand how colleagues and coworkers differ, here are examples in different professional contexts. Depending on the circumstances, you may discover some overlap.


Are you working as a teacher? If so, then you can refer to anyone working in the same educational institution as you do as your coworker. Let’s say you’re teaching at a high school. In this case, your coworkers can include all the other educators, the school nurse, the principal, and even the building custodians.

Meanwhile, your colleagues can be all the high school teachers around the globe. Since you share the same profession, you can refer to them as your colleague. Now, employees at your high school with non-teaching roles are simply your coworkers.


As a journalist, you can refer to the editor working on your story or your co-reporter as your colleagues. These people can be helping you finish the same story.

Meanwhile, your coworkers are employees within the same media company. They can be responsible for handling advertisement sales or publishing. They are unlikely working with you because they are in a different department. Even so, they are your coworkers because you are employed by the same media company.

Health Care

Most of the time, educators can teach students by themselves. On the other hand, when performing their duties, medical doctors usually depend on nurses. So, physicians can consider nurses as their colleagues. They can also use the term for other doctors that work with them.

Now, all the people working in the hospital are a doctor’s coworkers. Meanwhile, fellow doctors with similar specializations but from other medical institutions are their colleagues.


As a lawyer, anyone working on the same case as you do can be called your colleague. Perhaps, they can exchange ideas with you on the best approach for the case. They can also be someone helping you with evidence research. So, your colleague can be a lawyer within the same or different firm.

Now, let’s say you have an IT personnel helping you fix issues with your email or computer. Well, that person is not your colleague—they are your coworker. The accountant in the firm is also your coworker. The only thing you share is the law firm you’re all working for. However, your duties and responsibilities are different.


As a salesperson, your colleague can be someone in your team who is sharing the same professional goals as you do. Meanwhile, a person in charge of customer services can be considered your coworker. The difference here is you’re working with potential clients while your coworker is handling existing customers.

As you can see, there’s some overlap in your responsibilities. However, the difference here is that you’re focused on procuring new customers while your coworker’s duty is to keep current clients.

Software Development

Let’s say you’re a back-end developer of an online app. Other back-end developers working with you on the same project can be considered your colleagues. However, front-end developers who have the same goals as you are also your colleagues. Since all of you are sharing the same target of creating a functional and aesthetically pleasing app, you can be considered colleagues.

What about other back-end developers who share your professional skillset but are from the same or different organizations? Well, they are also your colleagues.

On the other hand, your coworkers are other people within your company. They may not directly interact with you. So, these people can be content writers, SEO specialists, human resource personnel, or project managers. They can be working within the same organization as you do, but they’re not on the same project as you.


If you’re a chef, your colleagues are the kitchen staff assisting you in preparing meals for guests. So, these people can include sous chefs; dish and workstation cleaners; and anyone helping with unloading deliveries. All the other chefs in the world can also be considered your colleagues. After all, you have similar job ranks and responsibilities.

Now, all the other restaurant staff, including bartenders, servers, and hall managers, are your coworkers.


As a designer, other professionals working on the same project as you can be considered your colleagues. For instance, if you’re designing a company logo, your colleagues will be the people contributing to the design ideas for the project. Other designers with the same responsibilities and skillset as you have but from other companies can be considered your colleagues too.

Meanwhile, your coworkers will be other employees within the same organization as you. You may not collaborate with them directly, but you’re employed by the same company.

Remote Work

If you’re a remote worker, other employees in your company are your coworkers. They may be working in the office or in their homes, but you are employed by the same organization.

Now, if you share the same role with a person but they work for a different company, they are called your colleague. Usually, remote workers encounter their colleagues in networking events, industry forums, and coworking spaces.


Now, if you’re a freelancer, it’s unlikely that you have coworkers. After all, you’re a solopreneur. On the other hand, if you’re working on a project with other people, those in the team can be considered your colleagues. You can also think of other freelancers who share the same role as you as your colleagues.


While the terms colleague and coworker can be confusing, you simply need to look at the context they apply to. In most cases, a colleague has a more personal bearing than a coworker.

To sum things up

  • A colleague is someone who shares the same job role or responsibilities as you have.
  • A coworker can be anyone working within the same company as you do.
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