Week of 8 Dec 08
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Faithful reader Brendan MacGrath, who works for FM Global in Paris, France, asked me to repeat the column of 16 Dec 2004 this week. And to make it easy, he sent along a copy from his personal files. I am happy to comply and have added a bit more at the end.
From Nip Impressions, 16 Dec 2004:
"Without a doubt, the potentially most career-damaging event of the year is the "Christmas Party" or, these days, politically correct, "Holiday Party." For decades acquaintances have viewed my thoughts on these events as a "bah, humbug" sort of attitude. Not true--I enjoy a good get-together as much as the next person, in fact, maybe more as it gives me an audience for my endless opinions (when I fail to follow my own advice below). It is just that these holiday parties are a place where the worst in people can come out and kill their careers. I caution people to arrive late, leave early and drink water, from the tap (so you do not look ostentatious).
"Dangers lurk in many corners at these corporate mosh pits. The first danger is you. You may think this is a place to dress funky, talk funky and let your hair down. Keep in mind everyone is watching everyone else at these affairs and any apparel or behavior that appears slightly out of the norm, as defined by your company and associates during a normal business day, is going to be remembered in detail by the office politicos. It will be used against you when they are ready to make a move. Dress and act as if you are going to a job interview--which you are: an interview to keep the job you currently have.
"The next thing to worry about is alcohol--too much of it. Make a cross-binding pact with a coworker before the party to watch out for each other. Make it an irrevocable commitment to stop drinking if the coworker tells you to do so. In addition, if, heaven help you, there are any illegal drugs floating around, stay away from them as if they were a radioactive isotope spilled on the floor--leave the party as soon as possible. Finally, on this subject, if you do feel inebriated, make plans on the spot to be driven home by others--this action may redeem you from any other damage your drinking has caused.
"The third thing to worry about is your mouth. Stay to subjects and opinions that are bland and boring. You do not want to get in an argument with the boss about sports, religion, legal decisions or anything else. Opinions on what appears to be the most innocuous subjects here can and will be used against you in the future.
"The fourth thing to worry about is your spouse or significant other. Make sure they have no surreptitious plans to tell the boss how rotten you have been treated this year. Also, make sure they have no plans to tell your peers how great you are. And, finally, make sure they have zero plans to repeat any gossip you may have brought home at any time.
"And finally, if you are young and single (I used to add female, but today this area is equal opportunity for both genders), watch out for that middle-aged coworker or boss who has been fantasizing about you all year and just waiting for this opportunity to pounce. If they come at you, be polite, briefly conversational and have an escape plan to another part of the room. Never, ever, leave the main room with this person to go to another area of the party environs or even outdoors to the well-lit and populated veranda. You have to cut this off early, quick and surgically. Among all the potential problems with this, just keep in mind that last year's fresh victim, now stale, may be jealously watching, taking notes and ready to spread gossip about you come Monday morning.
"So, arrive late, leave early and drink water. The best thing that can happen for your career at this event is that your departure at the end of the evening is status quo with your arrival at the beginning. These are some of the most dangerous waters of the corporate world.
"For ethics this week, let us focus on pens and pencils. Are there writing instruments at your home or in your kids' school bags with your company's logo on them? How did you acquire them? What message are you sending to your offspring with these perhaps purloined pens and pencils? (Do not tell me everybody does it--that is what my teenagers say!) Be safe, be ethical and we will talk next week."
So, that's what I said four years ago. It applies doubly today, for we have recently mentioned a phenomenon here that ties in closely to the above--I hope you remember it: "you are hired based on your resume and fired based on your personality." In these days of downsizing, managers told to cut by 10% are looking long and hard at who they are willing to lose, and if you give them a personality excuse, expect to find yourself on the outside looking in. Stated another way, in times of mass layoffs, the strength of the criteria to dismiss someone based on a negative personality is far stronger than the tendency to keep someone based on performance. After all, the criteria is who to cut, not who to keep. These are no times to be difficult.
I read something the other day that is also a contemporary comment on the Holiday Party, and with which I agree. It went like this: if your boss has managed to pull together a little money this year to have such a party, you had better go, for it may have been quite an effort to get it funded. So, go--but don't forget all I said above.
For safety this week, that holiday get-together is full of many regular safety issues besides the special ones mentioned above. Crowded rooms, candles next to curtains, overloaded extension cords, trip hazards and on and on. You get the idea--don't forget safety when you walk into that event.
Be safe and we will talk next week.