One of the biggest mistakes that is made socially can be misreading the difference between leisure and pleasure. Any function related to work is not leisure, however it can be pleasure. Work wear is not weekend wear, no matter how expensive the item of clothing nor how casual the event, and exercise gear is purely for going to the gym or a run not for casual Fridays!
Often people say they want to be authentic and be the same person in every situation. You can be authentic AND adjust your behaviour for the situation you find yourself in. I’m sure that if you are going to a funeral, you behave quite differently than if you were going to birthday party.
Just as you know what to adjust and how to adjust for these situations, you need to also be aware of how to adjust for the various contexts where you see your work colleagues. Being always on the ready for the fact that anything you do, can be and is likely to be seen in relation to how you may operate at work. Too casual about what you say, share too many secrets? Flirting at work? All of these things undermine your power and presence in the workplace. Remember not everything is public information.
This leads to a very important rule: colleagues are colleagues first, friends second.
While you may work with people whom become your friends, it is more likely these people are work based friends. If you changed jobs tomorrow, would you still share enough common interests to remain friends? So best to always think about your work colleagues as work colleagues - that is, stay away form work gossip and remember the TMI rule (is what you are about to say ‘too much information’ for work?) Less is more where work is concerned, talk about your holiday if you wish but remember, those very detailed situations which might have been part of a very expensive holiday may just bring out some jealousy at work or lead to other comments about what you earn. Instead talk about yourself in broad terms.
Thank yous, RSVPs, real cards, flowers and chocolates
Saying thank you is an art form in itself. In a world where text and emails are often replacing more formal written notices, there is still a place for snail mail and hand written notes.
A hand written thank you says that you appreciate the gesture or act and have taken time to acknowledge the effort the other person has taken. An email is a less formal way to follow up after meeting someone but if you have been invited for lunch or dinner, been given a gift or someone has gone out of their way to help you, a hand written thank you cannot be replaced. A formal thank you is an important part of the process of putting your stamp on who you are. You might use an email to thank you a colleague for their time or for helping you to do something. If you want to be memorable to them and this person is someone you wish to influence consider a personal note. You could even go as far as to drop off something that you’ve recently discussed.
I recall once meeting someone who was to become very influential in my career. During our ‘coffee’ we discussed their love of wine. After the meeting, this person said to keep in touch. As a follow up, I took a bottle of wine (not overly expensive but a good one nonetheless) and wrote a note thanking them for their time saying I hoped that they would enjoy a glass on me! This recognised the situation and was an appropriate thank you for their time.
Many people today are busy and may be suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!) which means that even though you are planning to attend something you may not have actually told the person formally you are coming. A formal RSVP (from the French response required please) is a basic tenant of respect, no matter how you advise you are attending. If an email was the invitation then an email will suffice, if it was via text then a text will suffice. For a formal invitation that has been sent on paper, a paper response by way of small card is appropriate. The wording should say: “It is with pleasure that I accept your kind invitation” or “It is with regret that I an unable to attend”.
Please ensure this is done in a timely manner to allow your host to plan for the event at hand.
Sending other cards is slowly becoming a dying art, however, one act of sending a card is very valuable and personally connects you; it says you care enough about them to spend time and energy getting and writing and posting them your wishes. Think about sending cards for significant holidays if you celebrate Christmas or Easter or Ramadan or Chinese New Year. Sending birthday cards and condolences cards, baby arrival cards and congratulations on wedding, engagement or success news are also good ideas. Have a packet of thank you cards in the cupboard and have some generic cards you can send also. Get started on your Christmas or other holiday cards early as they come around each year. Cards acknowledge situations and say you care.
Sending or giving flowers, chocolates or other hampers are also worth considering. Flowers are the perfect gift for a birthday, or condolences, a celebration or acknowledgement of success. Consider sending these where you won't personally see the recipient in a timely manner at the event. Taking flowers to a dinner is a lovely gesture as is giving chocolates. Taking wine to drink is a relatively new approach and remember that the wine you take may not be opened as usually in a formal situation the wine will have already been chosen for the event. Think of it in terms of the wine you bring is a gift rather than a contribution to the event.
Observing these customs and behaviours will ensure that your work social events are a source of pleasure for all involved.