Should you invite the boss?

KATE JONES
Last updated 12:21 19/06/2014

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It's that awkward moment in the office when an employee hands you an invite. As the boss, should you go?

Are you crossing the line if you attend? Can you let your hair down or will you just be cramping everyone's style?

No matter how approachable and close to their staff, managers are not obliged to go to a staff member's stag do or baby shower. Nor should they feel forced to decline.

But the first stumbling block is knowing how to respond to an invite.

Melbourne businessman David Taylor has been in management for more than 30 years and estimates he has attended more than 20 employee parties, including weddings.

Taylor, who owns window-coating business KristalBond after 36 years of owning and operating real estate agencies, says he never hesitates to attend staff functions.

"I'm the same at work, social events or at home, so if someone wants my company I have no inhibitions about going," he says.

Keeping politics out of the workplace is the key to management and employees feeling comfortable enough to invite each other to functions outside of work, he says.

"I don't allow any politics in my company," he says.

"Today it's all about relationships, encouragement and both staff and yourself knowing where you stand in the business."

Unlike team-building activities or birthday luncheons held during working hours, management and staff are "off duty" when they attend private parties.

But Melissa Johnston, career consultant at Suzie Plush Consulting, says bosses have a responsibility to stay professional.

"Keep it professional at all times, always," she says. "And remember, it's OK to make a quick exit if you feel things are getting out of control."

Johnston advises carefully considering each invite on a case-by-case basis.

"There's no need to accept it on the spot," she says. "Go and weigh it up before responding and go with your gut feeling."

Bosses should consider what lies behind an employee's invitation. Has a well-meaning employee invited them out of obligation or a shot at promotion? Or is a sincere attempt at friendship?

Before making the decision on whether to attend, try to subtly gather some information about where the party will be held, who will be there and what's on the agenda. This inside intel will be especially handy for those invited to stag or hen's parties.

After all, it would be nice to get a heads up if body shots or penis straws are involved in any way.

Though not official work functions, Johnston says employee parties may present a good opportunity to network and get to know staff better. To do this, avoid shop talk and try not to throw a barrage of questions at employees or they will feel like they are in the middle of a impromptu professional development review.

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Keep the conversation flowing on both sides and try to mingle with staff, rather than sticking to the management clique. An invite to a personal party means socialising with all guests.

But the golden rule, according to Johnston, is to never gossip about party shenanigans on Monday morning. Not only does it ensure you won't be invited to the next staff shindig, it means you also risk singling out employees for embarrassment, creating office tensions and, ultimately, damaging workplace productivity.

One young executive, who wanted to remain anonymous, said one of his first actions after being promoted to management was "defriending" co-workers on Facebook.

"I didn't want them to see photos of me socialising on Facebook and I didn't want to see photos of them socialising on Facebook," he says.

But the Melbourne businessman, who oversees nine staff, says it's entirely appropriate for management to socialise with employees, provided they abide by a few rules.

"You need to be on good behaviour, like limiting your drinking to a couple of drinks and politely leaving if things get rowdy," he says.

"The other factor that would determine how I approached it would be how many other employees were in attendance. If you're the only one from work there then you could let your hair down a bit more."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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