Work social. Team building event. Drinks after work. Feeling anxious and awkward yet? We’ve got your back.
Any work event has the potential to impact your career drastically. Whether it’s a positive or negative impact is up to you. Experts all agree that the first step in the right direction is realising that the people you are about to spend your free time with are not your friends; these are your colleagues and it is important to your career that you keep the relationship professional.
Here’s how to navigate your next work event.
Should I? Shouldn’t I?
Knowing when it’s okay to say “no” to an invite will not only save you some of your precious leisure time, it could also be the difference between being known as “Disco Dave” or not. When it’s the big boss hosting a work social you definitely need to attend; not doing so will be noticed and will negatively impact on your career at the company. However, if it is an invitation from a co-worker you don’t feel especially close to, and it’s for drinks after work, you definitely can say no.
Letting down your hair with a colleague you only sorta-know could lead to you making some bad judgement calls and having unpleasant accounts of the night before to deal with the next morning and weeks or months after.
Of course you should have friends but you need to keep a clear distinction between who you consider friends and who are just business associates; this will make it much easier to distinguish between social events to which you should accept invitations and those you can pass up on.
While you can definitely change out your business wear for something more casual, there are still some rules you should stick to. Avoid wearing clothes that are too suggestive or revealing. You can, and should, opt for fun clothes – bright colours or sparkles are definitely acceptable in the right circumstances, but always keep in mind the image you are working so hard to portray every morning you walk into the office and dress in something that matches that image.
Let your hair down, but keep your guard up. This is not a stiff business meeting so not conversing or joking with anyone will make you seem like an anti-social killjoy with no networking skills. Is that someone you’d promote? Probably not.
While you want to be seen to make an effort to connect and relax, you definitely don’t want to treat this like a crazy night out or act like it’s a singles’ bar.
Avoid over-indulging in anything; don’t get drunk or take up a permanent spot next to the snacks table. Don’t be flirty or make inappropriate advances on anyone. And you definitely want to avoid a situation where your co-workers see you using a social event to suck up to the bosses – this will not win you any favours with your team.
Be present and enjoy yourself
Leave your work at your desk and let those who may be at home know that you are at a work event and then focus on those people that you will be spending the next three or so hours with. You do not want to be the one stuck behind some screen unable to connect with your business associates. This, again, sends a negative message about yourself and your ability to connect and network.
Definitely do not use this time to complain about company culture or gossip to someone from another department about your manager. While work-related frustrations and the need to vent to someone about it are very normal, a work event is not the best place or time for it. You never know whose ear you actually have.
Last, but not least
Be courteous. Be on time for the event and say thank you to the host when you leave. No work event is a given that you are entitled to. Would you show up two hours late for a friend’s braai and then leave without saying goodbye?
Work events are a great opportunity to relax and show your colleagues who you really are. If you’re clever you can use it as a way to show management that you are vibrant, likable and passionate while also demonstrating to your subordinates and peers that you are approachable and open to working with them – use your next event wisely.