What happens at the office party stays with you for a long, long time.This past month has been a good lesson in how quickly life around our personal little world can change.
One day our world is green and the next day it is snowy white. One day driving is easy, the next driving is nothing more than "slip, sliding away". One day our children celebrate with their Halloween treats, and the next day vendors are busy hanging Christmas stockings throughout their stores.
We are so busy that we hardly have time to stop and recognize our veterans by attending Remembrance Day ceremonies before we are rushing onto the next big event.
At the same time, news outlets remind us that our world doesn't just revolve around our immediate home and family. Life changes pretty quickly out there in the big world, as well. In just a flash of time, a group of Canadian vacationers in Mexico sadly met an unwelcome fate. On the other side of the world, "Waitey Katie" as she was apparently called, finally nabbed Prince William and announced their upcoming marriage. In an instant, both their lives and families will be changed forever.
Of course, occasions such as the Canadian fatalities in Mexico and the engagement of Katie and Prince William draw the attention of the world. However, don't think that your own personal activities won't ever draw as much attention. After all, just ask those individuals who have seen their personal "shenanigans" uploaded to all of those social networking sites how they feel about the attention they drew.
Their situation, no matter whether they were a frontline factory worker, a teacher and/or a parliamentarian, often became part of a chain of events that led to a worldwide display of "exhibitionism" they couldn't control. In the end, their behavior cost them their jobs, their reputation and their respect. Sometimes, it cost them the loss of loved ones. And let's be honest, where does one go to hide when your name is negatively known across the world? Where can one go to start life over?
This brings me to reflect upon the coming annual Christmas holiday season and how all of those fun socials and business gatherings might create a catastrophic negative change in the lives of the individuals we work with. It's true that organizations of all kinds have over the years taken special precautions to ensure the safest events possible, but a good deal of the responsibility also lies with the individual.
When I say that "you and only you" are in charge of your career, I don't just mean polishing up a resumé and strategizing a job search. I mean that you need to ensure a strong public perception of everything you do, every day, every hour and every minute, both inside and outside of work. In other words, when you attend your festive social functions, you need to be in charge of yourself, to act responsibly and professionally at all times. If not, I am sure that one day your "shenanigans" will be flashed across the world, causing you a great deal of pain.
With this in mind, the following are some basic guidelines that will ensure retention of your professional image and reputation.
A social event means business -- A social event is essentially a networking event and networking is still business. Your goal is to visit, get to know work colleagues, show appreciation, to learn more about your colleagues and to demonstrate personal professionalism.
Select appropriate dress -- First of all, you need to confirm the dress code for the event, but in any case, I advise dressing on the conservative side. In other words, women, leave your revealing clothes in the closet.
Time your arrival -- If the event includes a dinner with a cocktail hour, be sure to arrive on time. Lateness spells disrespect for others. On the other hand, if the whole event is a standup "social networking" event, then arriving somewhat later when there is a larger crowd works well.
Act like a host -- That old saying, "you never get a second chance to make a good first impression" rings true during festive occasions. Reach out and introduce yourself. Keep personal introductions brief and matter of fact. Leave the bragging for another day. Instead, extend a firm handshake and show genuine interest in the people you are meeting. Act like a host and link people together.
Show respect for others -- Your special event is not the time to be sharing off-colour and/or sexist jokes and it's not the time to make rude remarks. As well, while "hugs and kisses" might be part of your welcoming tradition, as the evening wears on, hold off on the urge to reach out. Missteps and mistakes are too risky for your reputation.
Be present and engaged -- Being a good conversationalist is all about being curious. Engage people in discussing their profession, their hobbies, their studies and/or their children. Politics is always an interesting topic, but avoid creating an argument. Find out where people are coming from and what they are thinking.
Practice the art of moderation -- Social drinking has become a large part of professional and social life and mastering the art of moderation is a skill that will hold your career in good stead at any time of the year. Consider asking for a fancy drink alternative or simply a glass of water with lemon.
Make a graceful exit -- Prepare to leave with a smile and memories of a good time by determining an exit schedule even before you arrive. Don't forget to consider the drive home as well as your schedule for the next day. Seek out your host to relay your goodbye and thanks. Send an email the following day to reaffirm your enjoyment.
The holiday season and the opportunity to attend all of those social events is a great opportunity for enhancing your professional image and improving your competitive edge. Take advantage of the "exposure" to a larger world, but keep in mind that should your behavior be inappropriate, your life can change in a flash. In fact, you could be one of those individuals who are unexpectedly accused of sexual harassment, bullying, and/or other threatening behavior after the event. You could, as others have before you, be publicly disgraced as your "shenanigans" are flashed across the worldwide net. In this case, losing your job and self-respect all at once is a major life change you won't want to face and frankly, you also don't want to become another highway statistic.
You know, maybe there's more to "Waitey Katie" than meets the eye. While she may have struggled with waiting years for Prince William's proposal, her professionalism under such public scrutiny has proven she'll be able to handle the life changes coming her way. And I am confident that if you follow the guidelines above, your life might change in a flash, but it'll be a positive change that enhances your career and your life.