Monday28 July 2014

Dear Matthew, can I skip the office Christmas party?

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BD’s agony uncle on how to deal with cliquey colleagues

Question: The Christmas party is coming up this week, and I really don’t feel like going. I like where I work, but I don’t tend to socialise with colleagues. I tried, but the practice has quite a cliquey, drinking culture, and I just don’t feel part of it. But I am worried that if I don’t go, it might get held against me.

Matthew Turner

Matthew Turner

Answer: Some people’s social lives revolve around the office. And in architecture — particularly in London — I sometimes get the impression that many architects go weeks without coming into contact with other people — not only at work, but socially.

It can be very hard feeling like you don’t fit in at an office, and it can really grind you down. It’s a pity your colleagues give off this vibe.

I wonder how aware they are of the atmosphere you feel they create.

Maybe it is just one or two loud-mouths who set the tone. Have you thought that you could quietly build a better relationship with your colleagues if you dug out the more sensitive ones that you might bond with more?

Not that you have to become best friends, of course.

It’s just that it is good to feel comfortable with your workmates. After all, it sounds like you don’t doubt anything else about your position in the office.

Call me humbug, but I am not a big fan of Christmas either. Somehow, the office Christmas party is the one occasion of the working
year when it is especially hard to make excuses if you aren’t into it, and dislike raucous gatherings.

Saying that, I would advise you to bite the bullet, do the minimum and turn up.

It is only one evening, and it is good to show willing.

Try and enjoy things as much as you can, then duck out when you feel able.


Email dearmatthew@ubm.com
To ask a question, share your views or read more advice, go to bdonline.co.uk/dearmatthew


Readers' comments (7)

  • I agree in principle especially if you have not been working at the office very long. I have been working at my office for over three years and have attended every xmas do. However this year I won't be as it feels like groundhog day.

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  • zecks_marquise

    My xmas party this year was hysterical. Often the centre of attention comes unstuck at these kind of events - much to everyones' amusement.

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  • Munter Roe

    I thought you would have been the centre of attention zecks?

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  • Typical First World Problem. Get a life!

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  • If you're a shy and quiet no one; or even lucky enough to start out as an apprentice who’ll be the unknown office tea-boy [or tea-lady] (assistant) churning out hundreds of MoD drawings behind the scenes unbeknownst to the majority of your office peers, then xmas dinner is for you, particularly as you’re the nobody who won’t get in others’ way climbing up the social ladder or might I say sliding down the snakes. This is where your silence and/or inability to successfully converse is not seen as competing, threatening or tactical, but welcomed.

    All might go well for so long - for the lower ranked party animal - until the year that everyone gets singled out to do a party piece: you’re worst nightmare if you’re as shy as I was and as socially inept and unpractised. This was still me after my third xmas dinner after graduation when for the first time we’d huddled around merely one long table and to do a party-piece each, Hmmm! Notwithstanding my voice at that time naturally still cutting out occasionally whenever I’d try to assert it, I decided that I was adult enough to give the party piece a go and try to impress the bosses and girls... That was because for once I’d remembered a class joke; I’d not normally remembered jokes! However, I’d made the mistake of not taking into account the way a joke is told! The reason it stuck in my mind was because of the way it was told: with expressive bravado! Neither was I a good actor and nor with the facial muscles to pull the job off. I realised that half way through my joke it was boring the table stiff; not only that, I’d felt myself stumbling onto a real conversation killer come the punchline. 3 to 5 seconds later one of the bosses laughed and seen the funny side rather than the naive and negative connotation that I’d felt I was making alas far too late into the joke: Oh, just remembered this ties up with some recent news trivia: the dog learning to drive etc. Here goes, if I can recap:-

    [A phenomenon: a rather loyal dog (not me as a possibly implied dogsbody: bad analogy as an eager worker/drudge) walks into a butchers shop with a purse around its neck and proceeds to the counter in a queue until served. A curious man stays behind to observe the dog making the purchase. The butcher asks the dog “what’ll it be today”, dog paw-points to something; “how many pounds”, awaiting No. of barks; “anything else”; “how much”; etc. The butcher then takes out the right money from the purse and ties the purchases around the dog's neck. The curious bystander decides to follow the dog home. He saw it struggle with the door, scratching it to be let in. The owner eventually opens the door to check that the dog’s brought back the right amount of change and goods, but after doing so he then leathers it and sends it to the kennel with no reward. The curious man then steps in to challenge “how dare you treat such an intelligent dog in that manner”. The owner then replies "intelligent?” “He’s fricken forgotten to use his keys twice this week!”]

    In fact I got help there from Google on “smart dog jokes”. As I remember, I’d actually forgotten that punchline when telling it; and desperately guessed instead “...bloomin so intelligent he’s brought home the wrong change...” Although feeling cruel and unfunny in the way that I hadn’t properly relayed the joke, I hoped instead that it’d be seen simply as disastrous social ineptitude as the lesser of the two evils. Perhaps an omen that a 4th xmas dinner with any one practice has been beyond my reach!

    I do however fondly remember the remainder including my first ever two or three just before the last recession in 1991!

    However, when I was contracted 4 times over 3 years in the mid 2000s - in the times of plenty – this yielded 2 fantastic xmas dinners, but another 2 were not to be had when contracted under a local authority. So, if you’re thinking about suicide: I’d recommend not temping for any public sector work during Decembers!

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  • Kevin, what on earth are you taking about?

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  • zecks_marquise

    slash and burn, munter, slash and burn

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