Thursday, December 18, 2014

On Office Parties

It's been years since I've been to an office party. Though I like to think of myself as a sociable individual, I can be antisocial in certain groups.

I will sit back, the quiet one, speaking only when spoken to, not initiating conversations. In large rooms with few seats, I will wander the room, alone, looking for a few small clusters of people I know. I'll approach the group but not fully join it, unless I'm addressed, invited in. I offer little input, unless called upon to do so.

I last attended an office Christmas party (a Holiday party, it was called, but the artificial Christmas trees and the gift wrap with Santa was a dead giveaway) five years ago. Having arrived a bit late, my wife and I were assigned a seat at a table, and so we sat with people I barely knew and people, who, if given the choice, I would not have sat with. But we were coming from another Christmas party (and that's exactly what it was called), with good friends, and we were loathe to leave it for a corporate event.

I had already consumed enough wine to make my wife the Designated Driver from the first party, and I was eager to continue drinking wine at the large ballroom in the Westin Hotel. With a few drinks in me, I am more likely to engage in conversations with people I barely know.

I don't enjoy myself at staff parties nearly as much as I used to. Maybe it has something to do with age. Maybe it has something to do with the size of the company. Too many familiar faces but few names attached to them, and fewer apparent things in common. You see a person, you may know what department he or she works in, but you're not likely to know what it is that he or she does. And even if you know what he or she may do on company time, you have no idea  what interests he or she holds after hours.

When I was younger, I worked for smaller companies or larger companies that held separate parties for individual locations. While I worked for one of the countries largest financial institutions, the Christmas party was for my branch only, and I knew everyone.

When I worked for a cross-Canada camera and photo-processing store, our party included all of the shops in our district, but we tended to know a lot of each other because we would call each other often, checking on stock. We would sometimes move around to help when another store was short on staff. We attended workshops and sales seminars together. And we all had one interest in common: photography.

Working in high tech, I have my team, I know some of the people from other departments, with whom I interact to obtain the information I need in order to complete my projects. I have a good rapport with these people, but my interaction with them outside of the scope of work is limited. I know some of them have new families. I may know that someone has taken a vacation and travelled. Some, like me, enjoy cycling and photography, or beer. Some know that I write outside of my job. Some have even read my book.

But we don't hang out. We don't socialize. And when we have an office party, I find myself with little to say. Being a shy person, I'm reluctant to approach someone and strike up a casual conversation.

And so, after the last office party, some five years ago, I stopped attending office social gatherings. Maybe it's because, on that last holiday party, I drank too much wine, smoked a little weed (I followed a familiar colleague outside to get some fresh air, and he shared—it was the time for giving, after all), and I lost some memory of events that night.

I don't think I behaved inappropriately, that night, but I never wanted to put myself in a position of being out of control in front of colleagues.

Last night, I attended my first office party in five years. It was an afternoon affair: no sit-down dinner, no dressing up, no dancing. The majority of us stood in the open area of the bistro, where tables had been cleared away. I wandered the room, alone, occasionally stopping near clusters of people I knew, would share a word or a laugh, and move on. My teammates congregated at one point, and I joined them. In this familiar crowd, I'm at my most comfortable.

I had a couple of pints of beer, kept sober. A pint or two keeps me well in control of myself, but allows me to be more gregarious than I often am in such crowds.

I enjoyed myself. I like to think I would attend the next office social gathering, but one step at a time.

I'm shy, and that can make me an antisocial socialite.

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