It’s that magical time of year, when lights are strewn, carols sang and way too many sugary treats are eaten. For most offices, it also means that some kind holiday party will be held. With cash short on hand in most government offices today, that means even more parties will be taking place right there in the office – many of them during the normal work day. And while skipping out on doing work for a few hours might seem like fun and games, mixing fun with the office setting can present its own set of challenges. In today’s government office climate – with more workers depressed and more discontent in the air – it’s even more important to avoid office party pitfalls, if you’d like to stay employed.
1. Talk about how overpaid the contractors are/lazy the government employees are.
Let’s be honest – there’s a bit of government/contractor tension in many offices today. With congress debating up to three more years of pay freezes and many government contractors feeling equally uncertain about their prospects, it’s easy to think the grass is greener on the other side. The reality is that anyone working in government today is facing a different landscape than when they first started. So grab a cookie, share some ‘nog and think about your similarities, not your differences.
2. Diss the food.
Most government office parties I’ve attended have included food brought by employees themselves. That means that awful mayonnaise casserole just might have come from the kitchen of your boss’ wife, so don’t start talking about how awful it is in front of your coworkers. Take a polite bite, and dump it in the closest trashcan.
Most federal offices have specific regulations concerning booze in the office. At the Pentagon, you actually had to get a waiver to have alcohol at your office party (or, you had to be in the right person’s office. Ahem.) Anyway, it might seem like a great idea to bring your own bottle from home, but unless you’re pretty confident you won’t get fired or fined for it, let your boss be the one who brings the booze.
4. Talk about your great contract company party at Ruth Chris steakhouse.
Some government contractors might get the benefit (or horror) of two holiday parties – one sponsored by the agency they work for and one by their company. If your company soiree is a big-time affair, just keep that to yourself as you’re swapping homemade baked goods, watching the director of human resources walk from office to office in a homemade Santa suit. If you don’t keep it to yourself, I’m going to allow your co-workers to disregard point one and talk about how unbearable you are throughout the party.
5. Skip the party and sit at your desk.
You might hate your coworkers and think the office party is dumb, but do yourself a favor and try to mingle, if not for yourself than in the spirit of the holidays. There’s nothing worse than an in-office party where everyone grabs a plate of food and heads back to their desks. If you have an urgent issue you have to resolve, by all means do it, but unless it’s pressing try to enjoy a few minutes of office fellowship.
6. Forget that you’re at the office.
You can have fun at an office party. Unfortunately, you can’t forget you’re at the office. Sexual harassment lawsuits can be filed based on office party behavior so keep that in mind as you consider how you address your co-workers. Avoid political debates, discussing current contractors or other topics that are generally off-limits in the office. Use the time to talk with your coworkers about things other than work or the government – like your family, hobbies and interests.
Government office parties can be fun (really). Forget the idea of free food and drinks as the number one attraction, however, and consider how you can use the time to build bridges and form relationships with coworkers you don’t normally interact with. December can be a great month for networking, if you commit to it – start with your coworkers and you just might get something out of an otherwise dull party.