Towing the office party line
BEING THE MANAGER means you have certain responsibilities to the company and to
your staff -- even at office parties, says Gay Wakefield, Ph.D., director of the Center
for Productive Communication at the M.J. Neeley School for Business, in Fort Worth,
Texas. Wakefield advises taking these responsibilities seriously; they could affect
1. Understand the event's purpose
The office party is not really a party, Wakefield says. "It's a business function
in a social wrapping. It's a chance for the organization to see how you and your staff
function in social events outside the normal environment."
2. Prepare staff
Because the office party isn't a let-loose type of event, managers need to prepare
staff accordingly. Wakefield says many younger employees don't understand the
difference between a frat party and an office party. Don't wait until a staffer is out
of control to discuss appropriate office-function behavior, Wakefield says. "The better
route is to talk with employees before the party about your expectations. Tell them
what the department's image is and should be. Come Monday, people will not forget what
someone did on Friday night."
3. Be party neutral
In addition to being a potential problem for employees, alcohol can be a source of
stress for some managers. "Should a manager drink at an office party? Some say no, and
there's nothing wrong with that," Wakefield says. The director reports that many
managers will have one drink and "nurse it throughout the evening and then have water.
That way you're not perceived as looking down on drinkers."
4. Listen and learn
The end-of-the-year party is often an excellent time to "keep your eyes open and
your mouth shut," Wakefield says. Don't start conversations with shoptalk, but if the
person who brings up the office at the party is in a higher-level position, go along
with that conversation," Wakefield says.
Wakefield says that the office party is also a good time to smile, nod, and
learn. "Be a good listener. You may learn something valuable. But don't let your tongue
wag in return."
5. Remember your manners
Even though the office party is not a true social event, etiquette plays an
important part. "Be sure to greet the hosts and let them know you are pleased to
attend. Before leaving, seek out the hosts and thank them for the 'social' evening,"