Friday, December 22, 2006

The Working Life: Office Etiquette:
Surviving the Holiday Season!

The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of “The Working Life,” Carol Blymire and I discussed workplace etiquette during the holidays. Whether you’re dealing with religious issues, gift-giving, holiday party behavior, or sneaking out for some last-minute shopping, we’re going to talk about how to stay on top of your game during what can be a very busy time of the year, both personally and professionally. Oh, and we also talk about the dreaded office holiday party….

Carol's Question: Let’s start with maintaining professional decorum during the holidays. When is it appropriate, if ever, to decorate your cube or office, wear holiday-themed attire, or talk about how or what you celebrate?

My Thoughts: Discretion here is key. Before doing anything, you might want to check your office policy to see if there are any “official” guidelines. When decorating your office space—simplicity and professionalism are key elements. Unless you work for a specific religious group—its best not to overdue the religious part—so try your best to be tasteful, sensitive and inclusive in your decorating and in your conversations. Remember, this is an office—not your own private villa–so decorations need to be modest. It’s great to have holiday cheer but your cubicle is probably not the best place to install your life-sized Nativity scene.

Carol’s Question: Gift-giving. To whom should you give gifts? Do you always have to reciprocate if someone unexpectedly gives you a gift? Are there people to whom you should NOT give gifts?

My Thoughts: Okay, so lets take these questions one at a time…

Who gives and who gets: Generally speaking, gift giving follows down the chain of command—higher ups give to lower downs. While it is fine to give a gift to your boss—it is not required as a matter of professional etiquette. What is required is that you give gifts (or other holiday sentiments) to people who work directly for you. Other than that, use your discretion. It’s best to stick to what you know and whom you know. Some general guidelines:
  • Give to close associates or people whom have helped you considerably throughout the year.
  • Give to your friends (often useful to have a gift-giving conversation prior to the holidays)
  • Group gifts are great ideas—a box of candy for Accounting, a basket of cookies for Maintenance, anything that says thank you to a group of folks is always welcome (and classy).
  • If being selective with peers—be discreet. Try to exchange after hours or during a lunchtime outing.
What to give: When giving gifts to business associates and colleagues, remember that the gift is a reflection of you so be thoughtful about the message the gift sends and who the recipient is. Some general guidelines:
  • Modesty (not cheapness) is key—don’t flash your cash
  • Booze is not always best. Giving alcohol can be tricky—best to avoid it unless they are close associates whom you know appreciate a fine merlot (without breaking any religous tenets or rehab rules)
  • Keep it secular and non-personal—the basic rule is don’t give anything that touches the skin: i.e. perfume, jewelry, clothing, undergarments, etc.
Reciprocation: If someone gives you an unexpected gift—you are not technically required to gift back. A heartfelt thank you is enough. However, it is always a good idea to have a few extra gifts on hand for such occasions. I always keep a back up supply of small gifts for such gift emergencies. Please note—there is one exception to this rule—and that is if the gift came from your immediate assistant or the like. Then you better get your butt to the store and buy something great.

Who not to give to: It would be inappropriate to give to a gift to the CEO if you’ve never met him or her. At best you’ll get labeled as a brown-noser—or at worse a weirdo stalker.

Carol’s Question: Holiday parties. How should one behave? Is it okay to drink alcohol with other co-workers? What do you do if you do something embarrassing? How do you handle it the next day?

My thoughts: I love holiday parties–everyone complains incessantly about having to attend them yet if a company doesn’t have one—look out! You’ll hear a cry of indignation loud enough to wake the dead. So try to keep in mind when attending one that the company is doing this for you because you’d have a fit if they didn’t. Here are some guidelines for making sure you put your best foot forward:
  • Drinking. It’s okay to drink modestly—just remember it is not a keg party—so while it is okay to imbibe with a glass or two of cheer, it is not okay to get hammered
  • Gaffes. If (and for some of us, when) you do something embarrassing (like drink too much or call the boss’s wife by the wrong name), apologize immediately for the embarrassing behavior/social gaffe and then move on. Don’t keep bringing it up. (This also applies for the "day after" apology. Aplogize to the appropriate people and move on.)
  • Mingle. Do not hang out with the same people you see every day. This is an opportunity to do some social networking within your organization. Take advantage of it. Meet new people. Make new connections.
  • Spandex. Dress appropriately—it is a business party. While you can certainly be more “festive” in your attire—remember it should still be appropriate. Leave the micro mini spandex at home.
  • Be friendly and open—this is a time to show your soft side and meet new people. Try to have some non-business conversations. Movies? Current Events? Great new restaurants? All these are great topics for small talk.
  • The Better Halves. Be inclusive of other people’s spouses. Incorporate them into the conversation. Act as if you are genuinely pleased to meet them. Also, coach your own spouse on how to interact and mingle. People will judge you by your spouse’s behavior and by how you treat their spouse.
Carol’s Question: Time away from the office—we’ve all done it – extended lunch hours for shopping or long lunches with friends during the holidays. What’s the best way to handle this in the workplace? Should managers look the other way when their employees are gone for long periods of time during November and December?

My thoughts: Allowing a little slack during the holiday season is a nice thing if business is slow. However, employees should be careful not to overdo it and take too much advantage. Your employer doesn’t “owe” you time off to go shopping. Managers should set policy and guidelines early on…let your employees know about your holiday expectations. And, most importantly, managers need to practice what they preach! If you don’t want your employees taking 3 hour lunches at the local mall—then you shouldn’t either!

Carol’s Question: How can you communicate with your boss or manager that you might need some time off to get your holiday errands done? Is it okay to say you have a doctor’s appointment, or is it better to be honest, and promise your work will be done on time?

My thoughts: Well as I said before, Taking time off for your holiday errands is not something your employers “owe” you. So the best, and cleanest way to take time off is to use your official personal time, comp time, or vacation time. Your other alternative is to negotiate extra time directly with your boss. Be professional about your negotiation. Let the boss know what time you want and how you will make up the time or the work.

Carol’s Question: Handling childcare emergencies over the holidays. Is it ever okay to just bring in your kid or kids if the nanny calls in sick and they’re home from school on winter break?

My thoughts: Again, you’ll need to check your office policy on this matter. In our child-centric world, we often forget that offices are adult environments. People may be doing or saying things that you don’t want your child to hear/see. Please remember that not all workplaces are appropriate or safe for children.

And no workplace is ever appropriate for sick children. Never Ever. Sorry.

Carol’s Question: The holidays can be a very stressful time, especially if people are already under duress at work or at home. Any warning signs we should be aware of during this time of year that might indicate someone is having a rough time?

My thoughts: Yes. There are some signs. A dramatic mood shift at work—the inability to get work done or a dramatic change in quality or tone of work may be an indication that something is wrong. Things such as sudden forgetfulness, depression, social withdrawal, increased substance use or abuse, recklessness, jumpiness, hyper attentiveness, aggression, or getting easily upset or enraged are all signs that someone may be having a rough time.

Closing thoughts on the season of "joy!": The Holiday Season can be stressful and difficult. Being organized and flexible are essential ingredients to surviving the season in style. Some tips to getting it all done without losing it:
  1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Make lists and schedule adequate time for your tasks. Get your most important stuff done first!
  2. Be realistic—don’t underestimate the time needed to complete projects or errands
  3. Get plenty of rest—it is important to give your mind and body time to rejuvenate itself
  4. Keep things in perspective! Do you really need to spend an hour finding the perfect gift for your second cousin twice removed—or would a gift card to Starbucks work just as well? Does that presentation have to be color-coded and cross-indexed?
  5. Try giving theme gifts—find one great thing and give it to lots of people
  6. Keep a sense of humor. If things get messed up this year—don’t worry, you’ll get another chance to get it right (or wrong) again next year!

Happy Holidays!

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