Even the busiest of companies plan picnics, softball leagues, bowling parties and after-work happy hours as a way to create a work-fun balance in the corporate atmosphere. All work and no play, after all, is no fun. So when you get the memo that a basketball team is forming or a company happy hour is scheduled, don't look at it as another drain on your time and energy; look at it as a way to advance your career. Joining in the fun is a smart career strategy.
Lynn Berger, a career counselor and coach, says: "It's helpful to participate in fun company events. You get to see what's going on and who talks to whom and build stronger relationships with your colleagues and management, which can help your goals down the road." Berger calls joining in the fun a way to broaden your exposure and show yourself as a team player. "Employers like to see that you're part of the team."
Corporate fun might be a simple group lunch or a longer commitment, such as joining a softball team, which promotes the company's brand in the community. When participating in a team sport that requires an investment of your after-work time or your weekend mornings, be sure that you can commit to those time frames to be a reliable member of the team. It would work against you if you were to join and then rarely participate. "If you're not an athletic person, you might worry that your lack of skills could hurt your team's performance in games and high-profile tournaments," Berger says. "To avoid embarrassment and stress, just say you'll be happy to attend and cheer everyone on." This smart strategy makes you a valuable part of the team, as you lend enthusiasm and perhaps even call in your athletic friends to play for the team when additional members are needed.
It goes without saying that your behavior is an essential element of participating in corporate fun. Obviously, you would hurt your standing in the company if bosses were to observe you letting loose in an unflattering way, for example, having too much to drink at a company happy hour. So practice moderation. Bosses report that they like their employees to reflect well on them in public, and bad table manners are just as much of a danger as getting tipsy. Eating sloppily and being greedy with shared appetizer plates are significant don'ts of the company lunch, dinner or happy hour.
And then there's conversation. Laura Vanderkam, author of "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think," warns against being all business while attending a fun social event. "Let your boss bring up work-related stuff," she says, saying that now is not the time to pitch yourself for projects or seek approval and praise for work you're doing. "Make sure you have an interesting enough life outside of work that you'll have other things to talk about," she says. For instance, if you have children who are the same age as your boss's children, discuss your common ground of parenthood. "One particularly outside-the-box boss socializing move can be play dates. If she has kids the same age as yours, get them together at a playground." Join in social conversation, and allow everyone to get to know the outside-of-work you.
If your company doesn't regularly schedule fun events for company bonding, step up and plan something, but first ask HR for approval for a company-time event. "People value their free time and family time, so you can take two approaches," Vanderkam says. "One is to schedule fun stuff during the workday. Everyone needs a break. You can bring in a speaker for lunch, organize a picnic or do a midday volunteer project locally, for example, serving lunch at a homeless shelter. The other option is to involve people's families. So think an evening or weekend barbecue that everyone can attend, an organized trip to a local zoo or aquarium."
On a smaller scale -- to test the waters your first time planning -- create a lunchtime walking group to encourage midday exercise and mingling time. Or play a yoga DVD in the office break room, and invite colleagues to join you for a 20-minute wellness session after work one or two days a week. When your initial fun event is a success, word spreads, and you may earn points with your bosses for being motivated, organized, enthusiastic and a great event planner who improves company morale -- all great qualities that can advance your standing in the company and perhaps even add to your job security.