Language and attire are critical signifiers of office culture, as discussed in previous “chapters”. However, in order to become fully socialized into the unique subculture of any corporate setting, it is important to integrate into the regular rituals of the social group.
There are several rituals unique to the office environment that take place in or outside of the office. Here are some examples of such rituals as well as some suggestions on how to be a good participant observer without incriminating ones self.
The Birthday Cake: as compensation for the fact that when you get older and have to take a full time job, you still have to work on your birthday, there is usually a once-per month birthday celebration whereby all employees who have a birthday that month serve as the excuse for everyone to eat cake in the afternoon. This is typically a semi-welcome interruption from conference calls and meetings and getting actual work done whereby the entire office sings happy birthday and passes slices of store-bought cake on plastic plates with plastic utensils around the conference room or water-cooler area. This ritual is usually followed by a late afternoon sugar crash whereby work productivity ceases and most people end up working from home that night.
Happy Hour: this group intoxication ritual is a semi-regular forced-socialization exercise designed to help you remember the names of your coworkers. It is also an opportunity to get “dirt” on other employees that can be used against them at a later date as well as to learn the favorite drinks of the office administrators so you can bribe them at later dates to do menial tasks you would rather not do.
Casual Fridays: This is ritual involves allowing employees to skip the “uniform” for a day and dress as though you don’t have to be at work that day. Typically speaking, appropriate attire on these days is jeans. This activity is encouraged so you can see just how bad everyone’s fashion sense is as well as to be prepared for impromptu after-work drinking, as you will typically end up drinking late into the night and don’t want to be that guy who shows up at the after hours bar in a loose tie and beer-stained button-down shirt. Tip: in order to avoid being the subject of office gossip, hot pants, air-brushed t-shirts and black socks with sandals are articles of clothing to avoid, no matter how awesome you think you look.
The United Way Campaign: most offices like to facilitate a charity activity so that everyone feels like their time isn’t completely wasted on time-sheets, quarterly reports and weekly conference calls. The chairperson of this ritual organized fund-raising event is usually some poor sap who doesn’t know how to say no to their boss and is charged with using guilt to make sure everyone at the office pays their Tithe and remembers to feel fortunate that they have the privilege of working in an office instead of a McDonalds and that they don’t live in a primitive third world village with no running water.
The Team Building Exercise: Also designed to help you remember all of your coworkers names and build “trust” in the strangers you are forced to rely on every day, this is usually an activity that occurs outside of the office in an environment where, if you had children, you might send them for summer camp. During these activities you are typically expected to share your feelings and fall down into other coworkers arms, hoping they will catch you. During these rituals, it is not uncommon to learn things you never wish you knew about your cubicle mates and is typically followed by a drinking activity to help dull the pain.
The Holiday Party: This is an annual ritual in group humiliation whereby employees are required to not only give up a weekend night for forced socialization with thier coworkers, but also typically encouraged to bring their spouses. This is typically the one time a year where everyone in the office gets completely blotto on free drinks provided by your employer and does stupid sh*t. Having spouses present encourages a safe ride home and also reinforces how lucky you are to have a life outside of work with someone you can stand to be around even when you are sober. It also enables your spouse to see what you have to deal with every day and helps them to appreciate why you love weekends so much.
Bring your daughter / son to work day: This ritual is perhaps the most sacred of all office rituals. One day a year, your boss will bring their kids to work (this is an activity reserved for executives, typically speaking…because the cubicle-dewellers don’t want their kids to see what work life is really like and get so depressed they will need therapy before they hit their teen years). On this day, you are supposed to treat your boss with much more respect and reverence than normal so the little ones can understand why they never see their parents and know where the money for their smart phones and designer jeans comes from. It is common to make the kids awkward by pointing to them and saying, “I see the MBA grads are getting younger and younger these days”.
All of these office rituals are typically meant to serve as opportunities to remind us that we are still human even thought we are forced to work in sub-human laboratory conditions. It is important to participate in these rituals so your coworkers will remember your name and cover for you when you need to take a day off to wollow in self pity and consider a carreer as a day laborer or circus performer