Don’t let the silly season ruin your career
HR Managers tend to freak out a little bit around Christmas. So many risky situations, so short time to deal with them. They don’t call it the silly season for nothing. HR is seen as the fun police. Trying to stop employees that just want to blow off steam at the end of the working year.
While it is HR’s job to manage the risk to the company, the reason we preach caution is that we are the (un)lucky ones that must deal with the consequences. When the workplace fun goes a little too far, damaging people’s careers. After 20 years in HR, I have seen it all, and there are two areas I think cause the most significant problems.
The Kris Kringle
Picture a large global organisation and an anonymous, $15 KK for around 40 people. At morning tea the week before Christmas, ‘Santa’ handed out gifts in front of the whole group. Just a bit of harmless fun, right?
A few of the first year graduates thought it would be hilarious to buy their KK gifts at Sexyland. One young gentleman drew the name of the bosses PA, a lovely older lady that was a bit old-fashioned and conservative. That lovely lady in the office that is everybody’s work mum.
I will never forget the look of humiliation on her face when she opened her ‘gift’. She was embarrassed in front of her co-workers and left the party in tears. How would you feel if your grandmother received a gift like that?
The party was over, and the employee found himself with a warning. His lack of judgement also influenced his reputation. The KK incident was raised every time he was mentioned for a new project or promotion, with long-term consequences on his career with that company. Not a smart way to start your career.
The Office Christmas Party
Alcohol is served. Everyone gets into the Christmas spirit. The party progresses, and inhibitions are thrown out the window. Tongues loosen. That guy in accounts suddenly seems a lot more attractive.
Honestly, I love a drink with my workmates as much as the next person. I have some vague memories of work functions that make me grateful that they happened before smartphones. It is important to remember it is a work function and you will face your co-workers on Monday morning.
At a Christmas party early in my HR career, a (married) senior manager and a secretary didn’t know there were security cameras installed on the executive floor. The footage of their drunken encounter was seen by security and word leaked out. The secretary left the company in embarrassment, and the manager was not far behind when the impact on his career became apparent.
Another time, a very drunk (ordinarily sweet and quiet) manager made inappropriate comments to some staff, including a young graduate at the after party. Monday morning, I had the job of refreshing his memory on the events that had transpired. He was mortified and did the walk of shame with apologies required for a lot of people he respected.
So don’t ruin your career!
These incidents happened in a world before YouTube, social media and smartphones. The drunk person at this year’s Christmas party is now the next viral sensation. Reasonable people can do silly things that have long-term ramifications on their career and companies lose great employees. These incidents can follow you long after you leave and affect how a potential employer sees you.
So, this year, rather than think of HR as the fun police, it may be time to learn from the mistakes of others. Think twice before you become the person that lets the silly season ruin your career.