Had an embarrassing day at the office, dear?

Should you drink at an office party? Philip Schofield reads a guide with all the answers
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The Independent Online
MOST GUIDES to office life are worthy rather than useful. Few cover the dilemmas which dog our working lives. How should you behave at an office party or cope with the resulting hangover? How can you survive April Fool's Day? How do you conduct an office romance or come out if you are gay? How do you deal with difficult people such as bureaucrats and visionaries? And how do you avoid being fired?

An entertaining book offering practical answers to these and other questions has been published by the Institute of Personnel and Development (pounds 9.95). Get more from work - and more fun consists of 101 succinct essays by Neasa MacErlean, each following the "how to ... " format.

Some sections are conventional - how to write a CV, prepare for a psychometric test or behave at a job interview. These subjects are covered equally well elsewhere. But on avoiding the embarrassing pitfalls of today's workplace, MacErlean comes into her own.

On office parties, she says don't automatically let your hair down. Employers increasingly host gatherings to impress clients, in which case you must be on your best behaviour. "Take your cue from the bosses. If senior ranks are represented in large numbers and not drinking, a certain level of decorum is required."

Parties are held for people to meet one another, she says, so don't spend the evening with those you know best. "You can become a big hit just by chatting to one or two others who then introduce you to their colleagues." And encourage people standing alone to join your group and introduce people to each other. Never leave someone on their own. This she describes as "a gawky, ill-assured act of rejection". On drink she says: "Don't be cast into gloom if you overdid it. Excessive alcohol makes drinkers feel guilty anyway. The chances are that few people noticed - and others will like you for showing an unexpected bit of spirit. If things were really bad, you might need to make apologies, but most people are disarmed by an honest acceptance of fallibility."

However, on hangovers, she warns you to keep a low profile and pretend you don't have one: "Bosses are becoming increasingly puritanical about drink". Don't give the game away by consuming large quantities of water in front of colleagues. Avoid long discussions. And if you feel forced to mention it, give the impression that your overindulgence is unlikely to recur. She adds: "If your bosses want to put you on the downsizing list, they will seize on persistent hangovers as a justification".

If you are pompous, MacErlean says, put yourself on emergency stations on April Fool's Day. You are exactly the sort of person people want to avenge themselves on. Keep alert, even the most eminent have returned calls to Mr LE Fant at London Zoo - to the delight of colleagues. She advises you to laugh uproariously when you discover you have been glued to your chair. You will at least get the reputation of being a good sport and can then plot your revenge for next year.

Keep an office romance quiet in its first stages. Then consider telling your boss, unless they are unsympathetic or the affair is gay or illicit. Say it won't affect your work but you wanted to let your boss know. Don't flaunt your relationship on office premises but err on the side of formality. And try to move to another department if your relationship could cause any competitive problems.

Gays wanting to come out should avoid doing so on their first day. They should establish their personality first. MacErlean says: "Consult friends outside work and choose a time when you feel happy ... come out slowly with trusted colleagues". Recognise that the news could spread quickly and work out in advance what you will do if people ask awkward questions.

A key section is on "understanding the characters" you work with and dealing with their quirks. Bureaucrats for example, described as generally pleasant and mild-mannered but often very slow and cautious in making decisions, follow the rules. Avoid confrontation and recognise you must know the rules better than they do to win.

Visionaries may love mankind, but are "not always so keen on the individual flesh-and-blood specimens". See whether you can work with them at all. Avoid megalomaniac visionaries like Robert Maxwell. Some visionaries, like Richard Branson, are susceptible to logic, others are not. Get them to be specific about their vision, preferably in writing. Few will admit their vision is faulty and are more likely to say you did a bad job implementing it. Avoid confrontation with extreme visionaries. "True visionaries will die for their beliefs or, at the very least, sacrifice you."

To avoid redundancy (or being "fired"), keep fit and healthy and avoid arriving late in the mornings and taking days off sick. Prove you do a better job than others. If you think your job is becoming redundant, try to change your job informally and learn new skills. Don't be seen as a troublemaker and avoid company politics. And network with other departments. If your skills are appreciated in other parts of the organisation, you are more likely to get the offer of a transfer if your job is made redundant.

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