Making the Company Social Event Work for You

Employers hold a lot of social get-togethers, from the holiday party to the summer picnic. While attendance may not be explicitly mandatory, there is usually an air of “attend or lose your bonus” attached to the invitation. So, since you have to go anyway, how can you get the most out of it?

The first thing you should do is realize that this is work. Think of it as working overtime, only in an unusual setting. This is not the opportunity to sample every type of alcoholic beverage, regal captive guests with your belching of the alphabet or hit on that very cute co-worker. Your boss may say things like, “Relax, have fun,” but deep down, they don’t really mean it. What they mean is, “Relax, have some food and something to drink, but behave yourself so I can tell the higher-ups that the party went well and no lawsuits will be filed.”

So, what should you do at the company party? Exchange some niceties, have something to eat and drink, maybe play a round of baseball or whatever, then do research. That’s right, research.

Before the date of the party, think about who is attending the party and what knowledge you might be able to gain that will help you in your job for the coming year. For instance:

1. Who are the decision-makers who will be in attendance? Ask them what they see happening in the company for the coming year. They aren’t likely to divulge top secret data, but they may give you a broader perspective than your immediate supervisor and help you to understand how your job plays a role in the larger goals of the company.

2. Is there anyone who has just been promoted or is being considered for promotion? Ask them about their hopes for their new position. What do they want to accomplish? How do they see their new role? Listen carefully to what they say, especially if you regularly interact with that department.

3. Is anyone retiring at year’s end? If they attended the party, ask them their views about the company. People in this position usually don’t have many reasons to hide their true feelings, so their answer may be the most honest assessment of the company you ever hear.

4. Is there a co-worker you have difficulty with? That’s right, talk to them. The difference here is, don’t talk to them about work related subjects. Do they like the food at the party? Do they make food like this themselves? The idea is to ask non-intrusive questions which might give you some insight into what makes them tick. You might find out something that helps to explain their irritability or perfectionism. Finding a shared interest usually helps an otherwise difficult co-worker realize there is a connection between the two of you, which can lessen the tension.

5. Is your boss attending? You may just want to wish them a happy holiday, or comment on the good year your department had, or the goal you made before summer vacations begin. If they attend, do be sure to acknowledge them. If you are close enough to your boss, it might be a good time to ask them their opinion on the company’s performance, a recent project or something similar.

6. Whatever you do, DON’T carry on anything but pleasant social conversation if clients are also invited to the event. No one is going to be honest when money is at stake. Be sure your research takes place when customers aren’t around.

In summary, you can get the most from a company social event if:
a) You acknowledge that it is, essentially, work; and
b) You realize that, since it is a party, most people will have their guard down somewhat, allowing you to gain added insight or smooth over rough relationships.

So enjoy your required schmoozefest – and try one of those fancy cheese puffs for me.

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