Afew days ago, I received this letter from a troubled reader. (Sender’s name has been changed. He/she requested anonymity.)
“Dear Mr. Vadukut,
Sir, I have a problem which requires your urgent attention. Currently I have just completed four months with a multinational company in Hyderabad. This is my first job. And now there is a new crisis.
In May our head office in Bangkok decided to change some internal accounting procedures that dealt with how we recognized revenue. After this change, instead of a loss of Rs 4.2 crore in the last quarter, our company has achieved a profit of Rs8 crore. This has created great joy in our organization. And all the credit for this excellent turnaround is going to the accounts department, of which I am a part. Therefore the CEO has invited all of us for an office party this coming weekend.
However I have never ever attended an office party before. I have so many questions: What do I wear? Will there be drinks? Will they be free?
As many of you readers know, the office party is a perilous place for people on their first jobs. Experienced hands know that they are minefields of politics, intrigue and conspiracy.
So how must the campus hire or naive intern navigate these choppy office party waters?
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s previous articles
The first thing to do if you have been invited for an office party is this: Make sure you have been invited for the office party.
Some young cubicle dwellers confuse overheard conversations and restroom chatter with bonafide office party invitations. “See you at the Imperial then!” someone will say as they leave work.
Is this reason to run and buy a fitted violet party shirt? No. (In fact nothing is. But that is a separate issue.)
Wait for the email to come from HR. Then make sure you didn’t get the email by mistake. I often receive work emails meant for others Sidins or Vadukuts in the organization.
There is nothing as embarrassing as turning up at a party and not finding your name on the invitee list. The bouncer will panic and call someone from HR. Who will immediately add you to the “Names To Volunteer If Layoff Conversations Come Up” list in his/her notebook.
(Note: The converse is also true. Convincing other people to go to parties they haven’t been invited for is good for your career path.)
Once you have confirmed participation, the next issue is: What do I wear?
There is a notion that parties are a chance to reveal the fun side of your personalities. This is a rookie mistake. When you are young and professionally expendable, stand out as little as humanly possible:
CEO: We really need to blame someone for this product recall.
VP: As leadership, we should all take moral responsibility.
CEO: Nice one!
VP: Thanks! Who was that boy who came in the violet shirt last night?
CEO: Excellent. He looks the type who’d put spark plugs in the fuel tank.
Instead, think of office parties as an opportunity to add to your cost to company. Wearing muted clothes prevents people from making conversation. This way you can focus on the beer and buffet without getting dragged into “Antakshari”, “Passing The Parcel”, “Who Will Prevent CEO’s Children From Falling Off Rooftop” and other games. Also you might want to carry a dull gray knapsack or satchel. This makes you even more repelling, but allows you to carry Fish Tikka home by the platter.
Next: Who do I make conversation with at the party? If at all?
In my experience, people at parties tend to hang out with the same people they interact with at work. This is a terrible idea. What happens next morning when you go to work?
Do you want to sit next to the guy who has a mobile phone video of you shamelessly flirting with an ice sculpture, and then taking it home? No. Target people you can conveniently avoid the next morning. Outstation staff on tour are the best choice.
The final question on your mind is this: When do I leave the party?
This is a true dilemma. Leave too early and you lose the chance to monetize fully. Leave too late and you’ll get asked to drop drunk people home.
There is an upside to the latter. It allows you to win massive favours. For instance, imagine you had to carry the inebriated CTO to his front door. For the next one week, interact with him profusely without ever referring to his tequila trouble. Then suddenly demand access to the unfiltered Internet proxy server. Add a verbal footnote about how impressed you were with his flat “that night”.
Repeat as required.
Office parties are powerful tools for career advancement. Attend them wisely. Have your own party tips? Send via email please. Details below.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org