By JoAnn Greco
Memorial Day is gone, and Labor Day beckons. Sometime in between, many of us are likely to find ourselves at an oft-dreaded workplace event: the company summer outing.
It's a tossup as to which comes fraught with more peril, frolicking in the sand with the pasty-legged guys from IT or shimmying with "secret Santas" at the office Christmas party. Both events are ripe with potential faux pas, says Sue Fox, owner of the Etiquette Survival Group.
"Most people seem to naturally behave better when they are dressed for a business or formal event, and the fact that a picnic or daytime event is more casual creates an atmosphere that might justify more casual behavior," she says.
That determinedly casual atmosphere is the largest snake hiding under the office picnic table. "The goal is to be noticed -- in a positive light," says Fox. "You don't want to be the subject of gossip at the water cooler on Monday morning."
Here's how to keep the panic out of the picnic:
Even if such events make you uncomfortable, or you can't stand the thought of spending extra time with your coworkers, skipping the party is not a good idea. "The very reason the company has these events is to thank the employees and allow them to enjoy some relaxed fun," Fox says. "While such opportunities are not strictly part of the workday, they are an important part of your career. This is the time to introduce yourself to the CEO and senior managers. Network and mingle."
Be on Your Best Behavior
"Your manners are always under examination...awarding or denying you very high prizes when you least expect it," Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote. The relevant insight: Your boss might be weighing a promotion.
Indulge with Caution
"As always, drink moderately and use proper table manners," says Fox. Corn on the cob and barbecued chicken on the menu do not give you leeway to turn into a slob.
Don't Be Overbearing
Yes, it's casual -- and yes, it's hot. But thong bikinis, short-shorts and too-tight T-shirts send the wrong message. "This is not the time or place to come across as sexy, and that goes for family members as well," Fox says. Men, too, should abide by common sense and decency: no stained T-shirts and definitely no bare chests.
Be a Good Sport
Resist the temptation to play hard at the volleyball net or to venture far, farther, farthest into the lake or ocean. "The company picnic is not the time for showing off or trying to be a big shot," Fox says. "Play your best, but play fair."
Mind the Kids
Don't forfeit your babysitting duties if you're a parent. If you're child-free, watch your language -- meaning no sexual overtones, off-color jokes, etc. -- around the kids.
Don't Talk Shop
"These events should be the time to meet other employees and their families," says Fox. Too much business chat can leave spouses and others feeling left out.