Editorial: Party fun vs keeping your job

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Tis the season to be jolly ... but it's also the season of the perpetually tricky office Christmas party.

It's a gathering which has rarely made careers, but has certainly broken a few.

With Hawke's Bay Today about to gather together on Saturday, it was with much interest that I surveyed a press release from Robert Half, a company who provides recruitment and career advice for finance, accounting and IT professionals. The subject: how to avoid the pitfalls of the office party.

Robert Half started out: "For some the office Christmas party can be an awkward, uncomfortable event. Not only does the function represent one of the few times when work and pleasure mix, it also can be fraught with tension if you're nervous about meeting new people or unsure of how to act."

They went on to offer some tips about how to navigate thorny situations.

Scenario 1: You start a conversation with your boss's husband/wife. You've met him/her before on occasions, but it quickly becomes clear he/she doesn't remember you at all.

Robert Half does not recommend you start the conversation late in the evening, or that you make Basil Fawlty type jokes about him/her suffering from Alzheimer's, or provide a false name ("Robert from circulation"), or any parting comments along the lines of, "you're as thick as your wife/husband".

No, the sensible course of action is: Don't be offended. Nearly everyone has made a similar mistake. Before you get too deep in conversation, reintroduce yourself and remind the person that you've met before. He or she'll be grateful for the helping hand.

Scenario 2: You spill your drink on yourself or on someone else.

Robert Half does not recommend that you immediately head to the bar to get yourself another drink, after telling the victim you "didn't like what you were wearing anyway, and you need to harden up."

No, the sensible course of action is: If the only clothes in need of dry cleaning are your own, then laugh it off. If you avoid overreacting, you will show your colleagues that you can roll with the punches. If you spilled your drink on someone else's clothes, however, apologise immediately, do what you can to help them clean up, and offer to have the item cleaned or replaced. Make sure to follow up on your promise.

Scenario 3: You're complaining to a colleague about a project you were recently given by your supervisor. Suddenly, you look over your shoulder and see your boss staring at you.

Robert Half does not recommend you stare him/her out, start jumping up and down making monkey noises, then return to your conversation, or if they come over and ask what you were talking about, that you either tell them it's none of their business, or that you're due a pay rise.

No, the sensible course of action is: Unless your boss approaches you and asks about your comments directly, there's no telling if he or she heard your conversation and knows about your displeasure. Your best move is to quickly change the subject and steer clear of work-related topics for the rest of the night. If your manager does ask about your conversation, be honest. Also keep in mind that there may be consequences as a result of your indiscreet remarks so be a little more careful with your conversations in future.

Scenario 4: You're introduced to the company CEO and your mind goes blank.

Robert Half does not recommend that you pretend you don't know who they are, or tell them the whole event is a miserly effort and you would rather be at the pub.

No, the sensible course of action is: This is your chance to make a good impression, so what you say is important. Smile, tell the boss how nice it is to meet him or her and say that you are enjoying the party. The conversation does not have to be long. Chances are he or she will need to move on to chat with other people fairly quickly anyway. If you have time to prepare before the "chat", plan few quick talking points about the celebration or holiday plans to avoid any awkward silence.

Scenario 5: You come across a colleague who has obviously had too much to drink and is starting to embarrass himself or herself.

Robert Half does not recommend you pay for a tray of shooters and join the mayhem, or that you take your worse-for-wear colleague with you around the room to make you look good in scenarios 1-5.

No, the sensible course of action is: Do what you can to help the person avoid doing more damage to his/her reputation. Get your colleague a chair and some water, find a friend who can help or even call the person a cab. Don't use that person's behaviour as a gauge for you to go wild too. Also, don't gossip about the person at the office the next day. He or she will be embarrassed enough.

Seriously though, my Hawke's Bay Today colleagues, have fun this Saturday. But be careful out there.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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