7 Tips to Help You Stay Out of Trouble at your Work Christmas Party!


It is getting close to the season to be jolly, and therefore the office Christmas party.  Here are some tips for not being the subject of an investigation by HR the next working day:

1. The golden rule of course is don’t sexually harass anyone. 

This goes without saying, or at least it should.  That topic is way too big to cover in one small blog post but alcohol, a party atmosphere, and a general feeling of relaxation of socially acceptable rules can lead to people doing extremely inappropriate things.  Don’t. Just don’t.  If you happen to witness someone being harassed, please don’t just stand by watching someone do this.  Step in, and take the person being set upon away.  Then follow up with them the next day to make the perpetrator apologise.

2. Digital photos and people with cameras are not your friends

Baby boomers are very glad they grew up in the age where digital photos didn’t exist and there was also no internet to instantly upload photos. Social media can be fun –  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are easy ways to share photos.  This also means it is easy for everyone else to see you having SUCH a great time (as you down your 14th bevvie, with another in your other hand).  If you upload photos late in the evening it usually means someone is going to be embarrassed, and DON’T, whatever you do, put your firm name to anything that might cause embarrassment.

Related – beware the photo booth and mistletoe.

3. This is not the time for confessions/complaints

The Christmas Party is not the time for teary confessions of attraction/love or indiscretions.  It is also not the time to tell HR Manager about the number of times you called in sick but actually weren’t – that instead you ‘just couldn’t be ‘f***ed coming to work.’  HR Managers remember all of these conversations because they have to stay sober and be ready to hold someone’s hair back while they are sick.  And they are annoyed already because of that.  Please don’t make it worse for them.

This is also not the time to air grievances about work colleagues or, in fact, the boss.  Especially to the boss! Even if he or she is a (insert your preferred offensive name here) there is no need to say so. That is a very career limiting move.

4. So you think you can dance?

Dirty dancing was a terrific movie – not so great when a very drunk, usually sweaty, person attempts it, especially with someone who doesn’t want to participate.  Oh, and if ‘Whip It’ by Devo comes on, or ‘Wild One’ by Flo Rida & Rihanna – it is never a good idea to jump on someone’s back and pretend to whip that person like a racehorse.  Refer to points 1 and 2 above.

5. Leave at a good time

Nothing good ever comes from staying until 2am.  Leave when you can still get a cab and you’re then not tempted to go back to the party.  Also, if someone from HR or your boss politely suggests, through gritted teeth, that it is time to go home and puts you in a cab, keep going until you get home.  Don’t tell the cab driver to drive around the block and go back in.  Seriously, no matter how witty and erudite you think you are, you’re not.  You are like the bad uncle at Christmas lunch no one wants to sit next to.

6. If the boss makes a speech – don’t heckle.

Chances are he or she is sober and will remember the clown who heckled during the rousing and inspirational  ‘thanks for a wonderful year, have a great night’ speech to the troops.

7. Keep your clothes on

Obvious.  Nothing more needs to be said.



Nothing is as certain as change.  As Bob Dylan said ‘The times they are a-changing’, and the times are a-changing constantly – both at a macro and micro level.  Change is global and change is subtle, in your own life.

The workplace can also seem like a constantly changing place – staff turnover, new leaders, new offices, equipment and systems, and structures.

Your success will depend on your ability to adapt to change and thrive.

When we experience change there are a number of things we might experience including: change

  • annoyance
  • exasperation
  • anxiety
  • curiosity
  • discomfort
  • uncertainty

Some of the reasons why include:

  • it is out of our control – we are told what to do
  • we experience fear/anxiety
  • we feel powerlessness
  • we are not sure of the reason or context
  • we don’t want to sit next to someone you don’t know or dislike
  • we worry about what it means
  • we worry about the unknown

If we are experiencing change in our personal lives, change at work can add to your stress levels.

We know from psychology that our thoughts and feelings affect our behaviour, which affect our performance or outcomes.

So if thoughts and feelings about any change are negative, it might produce behaviours like anger, hostility and rudeness, which in turn leads to disruption, reduced performance and team dysfunction.

BUT if you take a positive attitude to change, it might produce behaviour like a sense of anticipation, motivation, optimism and excitement, which in turn will lead to less disruption, greater teamwork and increased productivity.

One thing that never changes is the service level expected by clients – clients don’t know that the firm has changed business structure or has had a new fit out, and frankly won’t care.  It is up to you to manage the change and still provide the service clients expect.

So change is inevitable – it is how you react to it that will determine how successful you will be.

Harassment at work one of top three worries for women

Wouldn’t it be nice if all workplaces were safe, with a great culture, and open enough for people to raise concerns where they needed to?  Unfortunately, many workplaces are not, and particularly for women.

A recent survey commissioned by Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, found that, in G20 countries, the third thing women at work found most challenging was harassment – after the gender pay gap and work-life balance.

It would have been interesting to see the results of a similar survey conducted with male employees – because I am sure work-life balance would also have been in the top three but not the gender pay gap and harassment (other than perhaps bullying as harassment).

Interestingly, the survey  found that almost 30% of women surveyed had experienced some form of harassment whilst at work, but of those, only approximately 60% felt able to raise concerns – most women ‘suffer in silence’, rather than speak up.Workplace Harrasment

You can read more detail of the survey in the Australian Financial Review here – it is particularly interesting to see that women in India, fed up with the never ending reports of sexual assault have decided to speak up more often.

Why is it that most women can’t or won’t speak up?

There are many reasons.

Sexual harassment, in particular, is usually found where the perpetrator is in a position of power over the ‘victim’, so that there will be fear as to the impact on career prospects.  If the person doing the harassing is in a decision making position over the other person’s career or salary, then it is easy to see why an accusation will not be made.

Another reason is fear of not being believed.  If the person to be accused of sexual harassment is someone who is liked, revered, ‘happily married’, held in high esteem with an unblemished record  etc, then who would believe you if you raised a complaint?  The fact that most sexual harassment cases have only two witnesses – the perpetrator and the victim – make these cases very hard to investigate.  Look at the end result of the Rolf Harris investigation – women remained silent for fear of not being believed, but once one person spoke up, others came forward.

The victim can also feel that they are somehow responsible – if the event took place at a function where a few drinks had been held, it is even more unlikely that a woman would raise a complaint, preferring to pretend it never happened.

The truth is however that unless women speak up, harassment at work will continue – and not just against the same person.  Other people may suffer as well.

Speaking up can be hard, but if you have been sexually harassed, make sure you do these things:

  • Make notes of the event in question
  • Take someone with you when you go to speak to HR or another senior person
  • Make sure you know what you want to achieve – an investigation can be very hard to go through, so if all you want is an acknowledgement that the behaviour was inappropriate, a commitment that it won’t happen again and an apology, then say so. Talk through the options with the senior person with whom you are speaking
  • Make notes of that meeting and make sure you follow up
  • Any further incidents should also be noted, particularly if you feel in any way victimised

Speaking up can be hard – but sometimes staying silent is harder.


If you are lucky enough to have a mentoring program in your workplace, you should take advantage of this as mentoring has been proved to be integral to the career success. As a mentee you are not a ‘passenger’ in the relationship and you have to manage the relationship collaboratively with your mentor.

Here are our tips for making the most of mentors:

Know what you want out of a mentoring relationship

Be clear about what you need for your career and how you think the mentor can help you. What skills do you need to develop, both personally and professionally? Make sure your mentor is someone who can help you in those areas.

Set some goalsMentors

You mustn’t go into a mentoring relationship without some career goals – having said that, your mentor can help you clarify your goals and refine and define them with you.

Agree on structure of meetings and timings

Plan and set meeting times; bearing in mind that your mentor is no doubt a very busy person, and you will need to build some flexibility into set schedules, to take account of busy times and last minute urgent matters.

Be Prepared

Don’t waste your mentor’s time by going to meetings unprepared and making the mentor do all the hard work! Review your notes from the last meeting, and make notes of things you want to talk about, especially what you have achieved since the previous meeting.

Listen and Follow through

Active listening is a vital skill to learn – ask questions to clarify, look at body language to clarify the message being given. Follow through on suggestions made by your mentor – if you continually fail to follow through, you are not only letting your mentor down, you are letting yourself down.

Being proactive, willing to listen, acting on advice and not wasting your mentor’s time will ensure a successful mentoring relationship.

Email Salutations – How is your message received?

I know a lawyer who occasionally gets a rush of blood to the head and goes into the office very early in the morning to clear her inbox and generally catch up on outstanding administration. Emails are sent to junior lawyers with words like:

  • “see below – can you check into the question for the client thanks”
  • “ where are you up to with the ABC file”
  • “How far away is that research I asked you to do”
  • “don’t forget it’s billing this week – get your timesheets in today”
  • “fyi”

She thinks she is being incredibly efficient, running through her emails; but what do the junior lawyers think?emails

They probably think she is being rude and obnoxious, particularly if they come in to work and find three or four emails in a row sent at 5am, all like this.

Email is here to stay – it is used more and more as the preferred method of communication in workplaces – oftentimes people will send an email to the person sitting in the next office, rather than get up and walk next door to speak to the person, but that is a topic for another day.

But imagine if the lawyer in this story went to the door of the junior lawyer and said the things in the emails above and walked away? The junior lawyers would think she was even more obnoxious and rude.

So think carefully when sending this sort of abrupt email. She was not intending to be abrupt, but that is certainly the message that was being received. As much as we can defend ourselves and say we didn’t intend to be rude, the fact is that how our message is received, rather than sent is most important.

So to avoid having the wrong message being interpreted the sure fire way to improve your email communication is to always start with a salutation, and don’t rush the email. The salutation will vary depending on the person to whom it is directed. A simple “Hi” might do if it is someone with whom you are familiar. Using someone’s name – with or without a ‘Dear’ in front of it is another way of opening an email. If it is a Monday morning, a longer “hi – hope you had a good weekend’ is not only is good email etiquette but good manners (even if you are not actually that interested).

Even if you are good friends with someone, NEVER send an email starting ‘Hey b***h’ or something similarly hideous.

For emails going out of the office, play it safe and use the salutation “Dear’ in all correspondence – not only is it polite, but because your emails can end up annexed to an affidavit, it is safe.

People will read all sorts of things into the smallest detail of an email – make sure the message they are getting is the right one by framing your email salutation politely and professionally. For a more in depth look at this see the Forbes article.

What do you think? Are we being too old fashioned?

What sort of flexibility suits you?

We have written before about flexible workplaces and its many benefits for both employer and employee.  You can read those articles here (http://empirecareers.com.au/how-flexible-is-your-work-place/).  Formal flexibility is not for every employee, yet informal flexible work arrangements can work for everyone.  With the rush of modern life, we all seem to have more and more responsibilities, pulling us in every direction.  And let’s be honest not all medical specialists take appointments outside of normal office hours!work life balance

In best practice, formal flexible work is covered by a written policy, but informal flexible work is an attitude and approach rather than a formal process requiring forms to be filled out.

In truly flexible workplaces, informal, infrequent requests for flexibility do not require changes to your terms of employment and are arranged between you and your supervisor.   These are usually one-off or irregular occurrences.  Some examples of informal flexibility might include:

  • Starting late to attend a child’s first day of school (employers please note this is a really cool thing to do for your staff)
  • Leaving work early to attend a special school concert or medical appointment
  • Working from home occasionally to complete a project without any distractions
  • Working non-standard hours on occasion  (allowing a later start or earlier finish) to accommodate an external commitment (e.g. specialist medical appointment)
  • Being given time off in lieu for working significant overtime on a project
  • Allowing brief time off to observe significant religious or spiritual festivals
  • For non-parents, emergency veterinary visits
  • Allowing longer lunch breaks for special occasions
  • Early finish times ahead of long weekends or the Christmas break

Where informal flexible work practices are provided to you, it is important to remember the fact that the principle of reciprocity applies – that is, when you have the chance to give back to your employer, or your work colleagues, you should do so.  Some employers may require the time to be made up – if that is the case make sure you do this as soon as practicable, as this will develop trust and respect.

Even where formal flexible work is provided, it does not have to be permanent – it can be very short term or temporary. For example:

  • Working part-time or flexible hours while undergoing treatment for serious illness – radiation or other treatments may need to be undertaken on a regular basis at the same time every day for a set period of time
  • Working part-time to assist a close relative with a serious illness – eldercare is becoming a more pressing issue for baby boomers
  • Returning to work after serious illness or injury that is not work related – a formal return to work program is required if your injury is work related, but if you have been ill, or have had an accident, you might need to consider reduced hours before returning to work full time.

We all crave the ability to manage our many responsibilities – having a flexible workplace and a commitment to work hard at making it work will ensure we are all able to do this.

Preparing for your appraisal

Your annual performance appraisal is coming up.  Or has just been.  This event often strikes fear into the hearts of even the most stellar of performers. To get the most out of your review, we recommend that you start thinking immediately about your past appraisal!  But if you haven’t…

Make sure you know the important dates and have them diarised to ensure you complete your part of the appraisal on time.  Set aside some time to complete your appraisal without interruption and give honest thought to each of the questions.performance-appraisal_1b

Self-rating is hard and requires honest self reflection on your strengths and weaknesses, and what has worked well for you and what has not worked so well. It requires you to identify how you want to develop, and also areas in which you need to improve.  For example, you may be prone to procrastination and doing things last minute, or making too many typos in your documents – be honest about your weaknesses or blind spots and commit to making improvements.

When completing a self-assessment make sure you read any performance standards – are you really a 5/5 or gold star performer, or are you actually performing to the standard expected of you?  It is only going to cause grief if you rate yourself a 5 and your supervisor thinks you are meeting expectations and rates you a 3.  No one likes being considered ‘average’ but an appraisal is not about being ‘average’ –it is about what you are doing against set expectations.

Prepare for your discussion – cover off what went well for you, what did not go so well or what could be improved.  If you have received any great feedback from clients or from colleagues, pass that on to your supervisor.  If you have a difficult relationship with a client raise that with your supervising partner and ask for guidance on how you could improve.

More importantly, seek feedback from others with whom you have worked, as well as clients.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what you hear, and it will be useful feedback to pass on to your supervisor.

You must also be prepared for feedback from your supervisor.  Ken Blanchard, author and management expert, once famously said ‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions’.  Without feedback, we can’t grow and develop, so feedback, given in a constructive way, is vital. Equally as vital is how you respond to it.  Because of the way our brains respond to stressful situations, oftentimes our natural instinct is to ‘fight back’ or argue or become defensive.  Listen to what is being said, ask for more information or examples and discuss what can be done to improve the situation.

After the main discussion, take control of closing off the appraisal by discussing your career goals for the next 12 months.  If there is a particular type of work you want to do to gain more experience, now is the time to discuss it.  If your goal is to be promoted in the next 12 months, make sure you let your supervisor know.

For major projects, preparation and planning are key – your appraisal discussion is no different.

The Supervisor as a Coach

Aristotle once said that good supervision is “the art of getting average people to do superior work”, but it is much more than that.

Supervisors have many responsibilities including the allocation of work, supervision of work, delegation of work as well as a myriad of other things not related to work including conflict resolution, team building as well as their own work and business development.leaders

One of the most important jobs of a supervisor is that of a coach.  Supervisors are in a perfect place to coach employees, whether that be for growth and development or correction of performance issues.  In relation to development, as a supervisor, you have primary responsibility for assisting your staff to grow and acquire new skills.  This will require the skills of a coach.

As a coach, your role is to give support, provide constructive and honest feedback, challenge your employees and give advice on career options and preparation for the next steps.

In order to coach effectively it is important to do and be some things.  Coaching is coaching, but in a work environment the coach is also the supervisor. There are some things that need to be done differently than they would be done with an external coach.  There is not the objectivity that there would be with an external coach, and the supervisor as coach has more than the usual interest in making the employee succeed.  It is much more personal for the supervisor.

It is very easy to try and ‘fix’ things for the employee by telling them what to do or rescuing them; a coach however has to have the skills to  help the employee work that out for themselves, by using questioning techniques and helping your employee to work it out for themselves.

For coaching to be effective:

  • ‘meet people where they are’ – not where you are in terms of career or skill, or others in the group
  • Genuinely want to see employees succeed
  • Communicate that this is a positive process not a punishment
  • Know what needs to change
  • Agree how often to meet and when you are going to review things
  • Listen – listen carefully and reframe what the employee is saying if needs be
  • Have a solutions focus – if there is a problem, what is the solution?
  • Leave the need to ‘fix’ and control things behind – the coach’s role is to guide, challenge, question and reflect – leaving the employee with the responsibility for changing to achieve results
  • Look for opportunities for the employee to be challenged
  • Be available and accept that there might be some things you can do to change

Coaching is incredibly powerful – both for the supervisor and the employee.

Are You Ready For The Ageing Population?

Ageing Population 2Australia has always been known as the ‘lucky country’ and it would be a brave person who disagrees with this! We are seen in advertising campaigns overseas as a youthful, adventurous country, all beaches, surfing and long drives.

Traditionally we have had a very youthful demographic but as the recent Intergenerational Report shows, this is changing and will have quite serious impacts on our workforce and productivity generally. Australia has decreasing birthrates and increasing life expectancies – and we are not just living longer but are likely to be more active for longer. The downside of this is that there will be fewer people in the most common working age bracket (15-65) to support the young and more importantly the elderly, after retirement. The recent government suggestion to increase the retirement age to 70 is one measure to take some of the pressure off in future years but this has also caused some alarm, particularly in industries which are very physical in nature.

There are two important factors in this for employers. One is the employment of older workers (both recruitment and retention), and the other is the impact on workers with elderly parents who need to care for them.

Discrimination on the basis of age is not lawful. This can apply to a candidate of any age. Make sure that your recruitment policies and practices are such that the right person for the job is recruited regardless of age. There is one very common bias in relation to older employees and that is in relation to learning. As Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination recently said in an interview with Human Resources Media, for AHRI, “many employers believe a person over 50 isn’t able to learn new things…I can quote you endless medical research about the brain, and psychological research about people’s adaptability, to show that belief is wrong”.

If the retirement age is to be lifted to 70 years of age, then employers need to assess what changes may need to be made to the workplace to ensure that those people can continue to contribute to the business – does the job need redesigning, do they need more training, or can their skills be used in a different way?

Flexibility is important for an ageing workforce – productivity is not necessarily lost if older workers approaching retirement are provided with shorter working weeks or days, in order to transition into retirement. Employers who already have good flexible work arrangements in place for parents returning to work from parental leave should have no issue with providing the same flexibility to older workers approaching retirement.

Similarly, because we will be living longer, with severe stresses being placed on health care and in particular aged care, and stress on families, it must inevitably lead to the need for more flexibility for your younger to middle aged workers with the responsibility of caring for elderly relatives. There will not be the aged care facilities available for the numbers who will need it, and there is already pressure to keep the elderly in their own homes as long as possible to take pressure off the aged care system, which in turn puts pressure on families.

Review your policies and practices now to ensure your business is ready to face the many challenges of an ageing workforce.

What Do You Hear?

Bryant H McGill, author, poet and activist, once famously said ‘One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say’.

Communication is, as we all know, a two way street. Just as clearly articulating your thoughts when speaking is vital, so is active listening when someone else is talking. The inability to listen actively causes many problems in organisations – instructions are misunderstood, intentions hijacked, resentments build, or performance suffers. Performance of both the team and the individuals can suffer when communication breaks down.Listen

So what is ‘active listening’. It is obvious what it is not. How many times have you had someone come into your office to tell you something and when they’ve gone you realise you can’t remember what they had said. Or asked someone a question and realised you can’t recall the answer. You were probably thinking about the next thing you had to do or organise, were looking at your emails (or Facebook!), or worrying about something else, while they were talking.

Active listening is a skill that not only aids your own comprehension of what the person is saying but also helps you frame the next thing you are going to say as part of that conversation. In a work situation, not listening properly can cause disagreements, upsets and worse.

Active listening is about focusing not just on the words being said, giving the person your full attention, but concentrating on the entire message, looking at body language and listening to tone as well.

For example if someone says ‘yes I’m fine with that’ but their tone of voice or body language indicate that in fact this is not the case then it is time to ask some more questions, listen to the responses to try and see what is actually going on for that person. You demonstrate that you have actively listened by responding to any underlying issues – eg ‘I get the impression that you’ are disappointed with the result. Tell me about that – or paraphrasing what has been said and repeating it back – eg: ‘from what you have said I understand that the time frames given by the client were unrealistic’.

To practice active listening use your own body language – lean forward, pay attention, make eye contact, and nod your head to show you are listening.

Active listening is not checking emails, looking at your phone, allowing someone to interrupt, or looking out the window.

Most of all try not to interrupt what the person is saying – this will be difficult for some people, especially for those who want to help or rescue the person who is speaking.

Just as it is important to listen carefully and ask questions to clarify what the other person is saying, it is sometimes just as important to allow for silence, without the need to fill it with more words.

In a supervisor / employee relationship, silence allows the employee reflection time, time to think of a response to a question. It also shows that you have patience, not needing to give the employee the answer to the question.

If you are concerned a co-worker has not listened properly to something you have said ask them to repeat back what you have said to make sure it is clear.

Most importantly – listen to understand, not to argue your own point!