Whether you’re a summer intern or a new employee, attending your first workplace social event can be a little nerve-wracking, especially if you aren’t too familiar with many of your co-workers.
Of course, work is far more enjoyable when we build relationships with our colleagues. However, it can be difficult to to know how to maintain your professionalism during workplace events. You always want to represent yourself well, as your actions and behaviour reflect your character both personally and professionally, but you also want to have fun!
Before you head off to your company’s annual barbecue to relax and enjoy yourself, take a look at our tips for building professional relationships both in office hours and after hours.
What to wear?
When it comes to a summer barbecue, we’re all in the same social situation. Away from the formalities of the office, how do we know what’s appropriate to wear?
It all depends on how formal the event is. If you’re headed to an upscale restaurant for a company dinner, ladies may want to opt for more formal blouses, dresses, skirts or trousers with a blazer. For a casual event like a barbecue, however, tasteful sundresses with a sweater or cardigan are more comfortable than formal clothing. You could also pair some shorts or non-ripped jeans with a shirt or blouse, remembering of course that your Daisy Dukes are better for the beach than an office gathering.
For men, a formal dinner may call for a suit, or a dress shirt, trousers, and tie. For casual events, be careful of how much chest you expose. Wandering around the party with an unbuttoned shirt looks tasteless, so keep the buttons done or opt for a light-weight golf shirt or sweater. And remember, ripped jeans or t-shirts with slogans aren’t necessarily appropriate. If you’re in doubt, choose something else!
A good rule of thumb is to dress as if you’re meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time. We all want our clothing choices to convey our personal tastes, but you’ll also want to feel at ease in what you’re wearing; dressing appropriately can help you focus on getting to know your colleagues rather than worrying about how you’re dressed. If you’re unsure of the dress code, don’t be shy to ask senior coworkers what they’re wearing, or check out photos of past company events to check out the common attire for your company party.
What to bring?
Depending on the occasion, it may be expected that each attendee contribute a dish for a potluck barbecue, or a fee may be collected to cover food and beverage costs, or your boss may have taken care of all expenses and request that you bring “nothing but your charming selves.” If the event is being hosted by an individual rather than the collective office, however, it’s best to show up with some sort of contribution to thank your hosts for their generosity.
For potlucks, be sure to ask around the office to see if there is a sign-up sheet. As the new employee, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes by bringing the same dish your supervisor has been known to bring for the past six years.
In the case that each employee contributes a fee for food and beverage expenses, it is not expected for you to contribute anything extra; however, you’ll make a lasting impression if you bring some homemade treats for your guests.
If the company party is all expenses paid, you work for a great company! Show your appreciation by offering a gift such as a nice bottle of wine, some baked treats, an adornment for the home, or a nice thank-you card for the host.
To drink or not to drink
Most professionals see nothing wrong with having a drink or two at a work event. In a recent survey conducted by Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), 70% agreed that it’s acceptable to drink at a company party.
However, learning how to drink in moderation is key at any work-related function, as well as being comfortable with not drinking. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t feel awkward not to do so, even if most people at the party are. When offered your first beverage, there’s nothing wrong with requesting a soft-drink. Ultimately, consider your own limits when you’re offered a drink. It’s fine to have a few, but you don’t want to be embarrassed by slurred speech or getting too giggly. Throughout the party it’s a good idea to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (especially water!), and pay close attention to the affect the booze has on your cognitive behaviour.
Helping the host
Upon your arrival, compliment the host on their home or thank them for organizing the venue, and present them with your potluck dish or anything else you’ve brought.
Make a great impression by offering your host to assist with the preparations and clean-up. Of course you need to dedicate time to socialize, network and bond with your coworkers, but lend a helping hand whenever possible. After you’re greeted by the host, make an appearance and say hello to your boss, supervisor, and immediate coworkers, but after about fifteen minutes of chatting, check in with the host to see how you can help.
When the night is winding down, be sure to help bring in any remaining perishables from the outside into the kitchen. Scrape the plates, offer assistance with the dishes, or give the table a quick wipe-down.
Now that you have these basic etiquette tips down, you’re free to relax and enjoy getting to know your colleagues outside of work. While you want to be polite and professional, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through! By talking in a more relaxed setting, you may bond with your boss over listening to the same podcast or having grown up in the same province.