As Christmas nears, and output slows, you’re always within six feet of a really grumpy person with a hangover, and many of us are beginning our annual festive slowdown. Office workers aren’t so much phoning it in as wandering away from their desks whenever their phones go off.
In my local supermarket yesterday, I spotted one employee riding up and down the frozen foods aisle while hanging off the side of a cage on wheels, singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” while using a pricing gun as a microphone. Some of our colleagues were last spotted at the bar in Wetherspoon’s at 8pm, on the day of the work Christmas lunch, telling anyone who would listen that 2017 might be the year that they got “really into” Pernod.
While the majority of the working population manages to stay fairly professional for at least 11 months of the year, a few apply December Rules all year round. When you have a “proper” job, there’s always some temptation to behave improperly, and the more boundaries we push, the more relaxed we get about breaking the rules. No one minds the first time you’re five minutes late and panicking breathlessly, so next time it’s 10 minutes, and you stroll in clutching a coffee. You take a long, wine-fuelled lunch with your boss – then a longer, boozier one when your boss is away on holiday.
Suddenly you’re wondering whether it’s OK to take the Post-its home for personal use. Or if you’re Robin Pyke – a former housekeeper – whether you can drive your employer’s Porsche without permission (according to its owner, at least), have your boyfriend over and moonlight as a dogsitter on company property, in company time.
Pyke successfully sued his employers for unfair dismissal, after a tribunal ruled that they didn’t follow the correct procedures in letting him go. Does this mean there’s hope for those workers who might already be worried that they’ve “gone a bit far” this month? Will we all be able to look the boss in the eye on Friday when we wish them a final merry Christmas?
As a former office junior, and a fan of Mad Men, I’ve noticed that those who are the most badly behaved at work are usually the ones with the most power, or at least, an office with a lock on the door. Slacking off is a privilege to be earned. The trick is to know when you’ve been with an organisation long enough to start bending the rules – and to work out when you’ve stayed for too long. Your shortcuts turn into risks and you have to worry about whether you’re going to get yourself sacked, just to stay interested.
Bosses are human beings, and they have the same priorities as the rest of us during December. They just want to get through the month with minimal fuss, avoid any mention of secret Santa and be able to sit in their chair to rest their eyes at 4pm without question or comment. They don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t disturb this routine. Being late the morning after the Christmas party probably isn’t an issue. Trying on your Asos deliveries in the back boardroom on a very quiet afternoon might be OK. Anything that is going to get you hauled up in front of HR, requiring them to go into that boardroom to tell you off will interrupt their own quiet, lazy routine and make them furious.
Ultimately it’s all about the difference between winding down for Christmas, and winding everyone else up. December marks the end of a long, challenging year. If we began it bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, resolving to give 110%, it’s only natural to end it feeling burned out, less than bothered and running at 90% or less. Laziness is forgivable. But if you’re bored, and using the festive slowdown to cause chaos, break clearly defined rules and make everything more difficult for your colleagues, you should probably start looking for a new job in the new year – and not just because you’re on the brink of being fired.
No one can be bothered to rock the boat in December, so your employers will probably overlook all but the most serious slip-ups. If you’ve got enough creative energy to make them angry, you probably have talents and ambitions that could be better fulfilled in a different workplace.
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