Friday, December 16, 2011

Office Party Politics

I'm relatively new to the office scene. Sure, my last gig was at an office, and there were perks there - for example, every two weeks, there was a mandatory two-hour lunch meeting, during which I, as the most junior staff person, was required to take notes. The upside? Those lunches generally featured some sort of free, delivered food (sushi! burgers! and so on), which helped offset the stomach-roiling anxiety of sitting in a room with all my coworkers. If I worked a weekend session, there would be pizza for lunch. Somehow, the little perks of that job, like free food, weren't enough to undo all the thousand little other despotic, horrible things about that place, though.

I'm at a new job now, and loving it. I also happened to join the company at a very opportune time - three weeks before Christmas. This means that I've been invited to join both the company party and the office party.

"What?" I can hear you saying (Not really, all I can hear is my roommate slamming her door for NO REASON, MICHELLE), "two Christmas parties?" Yep. Explanation: My office is in a fairly progressive workhub that features over 100 different organization, most of which focus on some sort of socially transformative mandate. There are web developers, farmers' market administrators, courier services, magazines, social media experts, and more. Most of them are fairly small companies, ranging from one to let's say seven people, and while interaction between folks is highly encouraged at this place, they also employ people to help lubricate the process of settling in and working there. Hence, the office party, which was organized by "community animators" and featured, among other treats, a cookie contest and a cocktail shakedown.

The night before, my boss had treated her staff to a lovely dinner out - a smaller, more upscale event that left me feeling grateful and full. My boyfriend and I walked around the neighbourhood, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather - raindrops! In December! - and after dinner, I felt grown-up and like I was a part of something. It was a feeling I realized I had missed in my last job, despite the generosity with food in meetings.

I've worked at places with an end-of-season shindig before. One of my favourite work memories was going to the Owen Sound drive-in with my summer coworkers in 2005, eating piles of baked goods and watching Grind. There are many, many terrible movies out there. Grind is totally one of them. It reinforced that, for me at least, the possibility that work and jobs are infinitely more tolerable if you surround yourself with amazing people. That job was tough - I worked counter service at a french fry stand on the beach, where people would walk up and order funnel cakes, hot dogs, and fries. I had to wear a collared shirt. It was not air-conditioned. After sundown, the place was frequented by drunk college students. One time, someone put poop in the vending machine. I went home every shift smelling like grease. It wasn't amazing. But my boss had the foresight to staff it with people who got along, who could see the humour in situations and who bonded together over the late-afternoon hot-dog rush. At the end of the summer, a blowing-off-steam party was a right. We needed to cut loose, even for just a night, even if it was at the drive-in.

The same principle applies to the Christmas party. It's a natural way to mark the end of the year, to celebrate all the work done in the past twelve months. At mine, since I'm such a new addition to the team, I sort of slunk around, stuffing brownies into my mouth and avoiding the women wearing novelty hats. For the people who have worked together for years, it can be a test - are we friends, or just co-workers? - but I mostly got to observe. The folks at this party seemed to like each other - there was a healthy amount of cookie-related smacktalk - but it was also unfussy and generous and nice just to be there.

Both the office party and the company party made me feel connected to my worklife. At my last job, my mom observed that I often seemed to be having an out-of-body experience when I was working: my brain was just watching my fingers type, screaming "Why are you doing this?" silently for hours. Here? Not so much. Usually we celebrate rebirth around Easter, but this year, at least, Christmas is my time to feel good.