Illustration by Rob Donnelly

The Careerist: The Dreaded Christmas Party

Christmas Party? Can I call in sick instead?

December, 2016

Q:

The dreaded holiday party is upon me, and I’m panicking. My boss is a great guy, but he can get a little flirty. I usually just ignore it and go about my job, but I’m worried that at the party, where drinks will flow like Kilauea’s lava, things might get out of hand. Am I safer staying home and watching White Christmas with my cats?

A:

Rarely has litigation hinged on an evening of White Christmas, jammies, a cuddly kitten and popcorn. Not the same can be said for the dreaded holiday party. An informal NPR survey last year found that one in four respondents admitted to being over-served and behaving regretfully, and a whopping 80 percent reported seeing coworkers in cringe-worthy moments that fueled office chatter long into the new year.

Nigel Wilkinson, a partner at the prestigious Washington, D.C., law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, told NPR these soirees often result in litigation, typically sexual-harassment claims, and sometimes even physical injuries. “Sometimes, people forget that office rules apply at an office party,” he says.

The upside of these parties, however, is the opportunity to network with colleagues in a festive environment and get to know one another beyond the office. Stevette Santiago, chief adminstrative officer at Y. Hata & Co. Ltd, advises that you go to HR beforehand, both from a safety standpoint and as a good steward for the community. “It doesn’t have to be last year’s party,” she says, suggesting that you talk with HR about limiting alcohol or hosting an alcohol-free event. “I put our party money towards really good food and door prizes,” Santiago says, “and, if I have to apologize for shrimp and steak, so be it.”

Are you taking a spouse or date? If not, maybe you can team up with another colleague, creating your own posse before you arrive. Finally, while attending these events feels mandatory, being the last one to leave most certainly isn’t. Arrive early and make the rounds, seeing your boss as well as colleagues and managers you enjoy (and want to impress with your witty banter), then slip out during the Secret Santa exchange. Your boss will remember you were there, he might not notice you left early, and you’ll be cuddled in with a movie and kitty before the karaoke machine warms up.


Q:

I love my job, but my boss is ruining my nights and weekends and may wreck my marriage! She texts, emails and calls constantly, often over simple things that could wait. I’ve tried ignoring the emails and texts that aren’t urgent, but she follows up by phone. My husband is fed up, my kids hate my phone and I don’t know what to do. Help!

A:

Oh, the times, they are a changin’. While workaholic bosses have always been around, in a world where a scathing tweet or grainy cell-phone video can create a global buzz within minutes, sometimes the boss really does need you, even during dinner and on weekends. “Not too many professions today offer that sanctuary,” says John McNamara, president of Communications Pacific and formerly an executive at UH. “As an executive, it comes with the territory, and for managers and administrative staff, there needs to be a balance, a respect for their time and an understanding that sometimes, those calls, texts and emails are necessary.”

A recent study by management professors from Lehigh, Virginia Tech and Colorado State universities found a definitive link between organizational after-hour emails and emotional exhaustion, but also noted the link hinges on “anticipatory stress” – a constant state of anxiety and anticipated interruptions – which prevents the employee from completely detaching from work during off hours. “The anticipatory stress is more dangerous for people who prefer highly segmented schedules,” says Liuba Belkin, one of the study’s authors. She points to organizational expectations as the turning point, saying managers and employees must clearly understand whether the company has a 24/7 culture, an emergency-only culture or is one of those rare sanctuaries where work stays at the office.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as clear communication. My workaholic boss was renowned for creating emergencies (often when he was forced to spend the weekend with his in-laws), and he did, in fact, call me on my honeymoon and while I was at the funeral home selecting my mother’s casket. But, when I asked him to respect the weekends my son was with me, it worked.

“It’s a great conversation for companies to have collaboratively,” McNamara says, identifying policies that work and respect time away from the office while not letting client work and customer satisfaction suffer.

“It’s really all about manners,” says McNamara, pointing out that, if a boss asks a simple question, a quick response can keep the project moving, even after hours. On the other hand, if the constant contact is extreme, “It’s probably bothering others and is worth a discussion with HR.”

Be up front with your boss and let’s hope you can work it out so you don’t have to instantly answer every call, text and email. Simply making certain times sacred – dinner, homework and soccer games, for example – shows your family they deserve your undivided attention at certain times. You can respond to the boss later, when it works for you. Odds are you’ll feel better, the boss will accept it, and you won’t find yourself stressed out and looking for a new job.


Q:

If a 10-year-old can master social media in his spare time, why does my boss think it’s so important? I’ve been a dependable employee for years, and now I feel like I’m being edged out in favor of people who are social media “experts.” I think this stuff is totally overblown and that folks jump on the bandwagon about anything nowadays. Can I ignore him and wait for this to blow over?

A:

Oh, my friend, I fear you’re still holding on to a buggy whip, certain these cars will disappear so you can hitch up the wagon. You’ll be gone long before social media takes a back seat, so my best advice is to hire that 10-year-old and get yourself trained, right now. You’re the employee who mastered the fax machine, your mobile phone and email. You can do this.

Remember back in the day (before Al Gore invented the internet), when we’d never even heard the term “website?” Today, there’s not a real business without one. Social media is just the next rung in that digital ladder. While the research is mixed on how many customers actually plunk down money because of social media, its ability to brand a company’s personality, position it as a player in its niche and heighten visibility is uncontested. A 2014 AdWeek report notes that almost 50 percent of Americans rely on Facebook as their top influencer for purchases, eight out of 10 users are influenced by their friends’ posts, and 97 percent of all consumers use online searches as their go-to source for finding a business.

I posed your question to Barbara Guss, a well-regarded Honolulu professional recruiter, who says, “Get on it! The world is moving faster all the time and people get passed over if someone else can do the job better.” So grab a box of malasadas and bribe that smart 10-year-old to get you up to speed. Oh, and remember to show him the buggy whip. He’ll think it’s about the coolest thing he’s ever seen.


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