‘Tis the season to be invited to Christmas (or ‘holiday’ or ‘festive season’, etc.) parties sponsored by your company, non-profit organization or a stakeholder of some kind (vendor, funder, partner etc.). At first it sounds like a great idea: take a day or half-day off work, mingle with friends and co-workers, eat free food and drink free booze. What a great way to get into the spirit of the season and to start saying good bye to this year and looking forward to the next one. So what could be wrong with this picture?
At first, I personally did not see a problem with in-house celebrations. It seems to build team spirit and gives employees and managers a chance to see each other in a more relaxed atmosphere, even presenting opportunities to get to know each other on a more personal level. And herein lies the problem.
I remember way back in 1997 I was working in an office in Mississauga, Ontario and I was one of the youngest employees there at the time. I was excited to be making a salary instead of a wage, and I was enjoying my job for the most part. I remember one woman named Michelle who I had developed a friendship with and more to the point, a lot of respect for. We were discussing the topic of Christmas parties (and any work-related social gathering for that matter) and she staunchly stated that she would never attend a work party. I asked why, naturally. She said that you go to a function on a Friday or Saturday, and by Monday morning, the atmosphere at work is suddenly different, because of some people’s (mis-)behaviours. Tension is in the air, eyes are darting around, whispers are heard and rumours are milling around the water-cooler. This is what Michelle did not like, and that is why she refused to attend work functions, specifically where alcohol was to be served.
So what do you think of Michelle’s personal rule? Is it a smart rule or is it too strict?
I will let you decide. I can tell you that I was a big fan of free food and drinks, and before she gave me her advice I was not thinking ahead to the next work week. After I listened to her advice I decided that yes I would attend such functions, but I would be wary of my behaviour and monitor how much and how quickly I drank, if at all. Here are a few common-sense tips to controlling your behaviour at a work party:
1 – Eat a decent meal before attending. This is to avoid pigging out while you are there and also to avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Displaying a voracious appetite is not professional, nor is getting loopy on one drink. It will then be a long night for you, or worse, a very short one.
2 – If you decide to drink, pace yourself. Make a rule that you will have one drink per hour and actually take note of the time when you start and end your drinks.
3 - Sip, do not guzzle. Some drinks just go down too fast and smoothly, don’t they? But this is not a family summer BBQ, this is a work function and you will be judged Monday on how you carry yourself here and by what you say. Try sipping on a light beer, or a cocktail like a scotch on the rocks or a martini. This will force you to sip on it with more control. This also allows you to constantly have a drink in front of you so you are not pressured to get another. The ‘empty-hand’ syndrome causes us to feel out of place and so we often rush to get a replacement beverage. This can accidentally cause over-drinking.
4 – Be confident in your choices. If someone challenges you on how many drinks you have had or something similar, I hope you can simply smile and tell the person the truth, or disengage from the conversation politely. A confident person has no need to feel bad about limiting his or her drinking in public. A confident communicator is aware of image management rules and is determined to have a happy Monday with no scandals created on their part.
5 – Lie if you want to avoid peer pressure. Sometimes a ‘white lie’ is useful as a communication tactic. It is the art of misdirection. You can claim your 0.5 beer is a ‘real beer’. You can brag that your cranberry juice is really a Cape Cod (vodka and cranberry). Ask the bartender to give you a lime garnish even when your drink has no alcohol. Looks can be deceiving. Or better yet, claim that your second drink is really your third or fourth. Please note that this is a tactic to use when you do not want to get caught up in the ‘competitive’ side of drinking that sometimes takes place, or if you are somehow feeling out of place for not drinking with colleagues, and you just want to fit in at the moment. This rule is not as good as the above rule number four, but in a pinch, it can get you out of a competition that you do not want to enter.
6 – Be a leader not a follower. Stick to your decisions and manage your image. Do not get caught following the crowd or using the mob mentality as an excuse to do something out of character. Also, if you see a co-worker or friend stepping out of their shell a little too much, take them aside discreetly and give them some friendly advice. Let them know that you care about them and are concerned about their behaviour. Speak to them as a mentor, not like a parent.
7 – Manage people as well as yourself. It is great to manage yourself but you also have the ability and perhaps even the responsibility to manage others. For example, if a person comes up to you and starts flirting, and you are not comfortable with it, you could ‘play dumb’ and pretend that you think it is all a big joke. Smile, laugh and walk away. There is not always a need to make a big scene at the time. Some incidents can be stopped easily before they get out of hand by using this technique. In other words, you do not embarrass the other person and then on Monday you do not have the thick tension in the air, and do not have to have a formal meeting with managers, etc. We have all said something or done something bold when we have been nervous or intoxicated. We are all human. Sometimes keeping their dignity in tact is a great gift that you can bestow upon them. After all, is this not the season for gift-giving?
There are other rules and tips of etiquette that we could go over but I think this is enough to get you thinking of how you will manage yourself if and when you attend your holiday parties. There are benefits to attending if you play your cards right. A lot of business is done informally, or ‘on the golf course’ as we say. However if you damage your image in the eyes of management or stakeholders then you will lose credibility and will not be considered so quickly for promotions or business development opportunities. You may even lose your position, if not formally, then by virtue of feeling embarrassed by your actions that you search for new opportunities elsewhere.
I hope none of that happens to you. I wish you all the best for December and prosperity in the upcoming new year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!