Hello, and Happy almost-Thanksgiving to my US readers! I’ve been receiving a lot of great questions on my website lately, and while I often answer these questions privately, every now and then, I come across one that I think might be interesting to everyone. In this case, a woman from Bloomington, Indiana sent me this intriguing question, and I thought I might answer her in this week’s article. Here’s her question:
It seems like everyone has unofficially appointed me as the party planner around work. I’m not exactly complaining, but I’m often asked to do things like plan office parties or set up small events, and I already do enough of these things at home with my own family. I’d like to back off at work, but I’m worried it would look like I’m not a team player. How do I politely explain to my co-workers that I want out of this job? Also, is the image of party planner good or bad for my career? Does it look unprofessional, or could it possibly even be a good thing?
First of all, this dilemma is not reserved for women alone. I’ve known several men in my career who’ve been strapped with the same informal job – and the tasks that go with it. If you’re one of those people, I bet you’re the go-to person who keeps an emergency stash of birthday candles and blank greeting cards in your glove compartment or desk drawer. And that you’ve averted a few social disasters, and been a lifesaver – and maybe even a career saver – more than a few times! However, I can certainly understand why this situation might feel like “too much of a good thing” if you’re in constant party-planning mode, both at work and at home.
For the purposes of this article, my answer is going to be based on the assumption that planning these office parties and small events are optional roles you’ve taken on, and are not part of your official job description. (If that’s not the case, then we have a different situation on our hands that I would be happy to address in a future article.) So, as we continue, it’s important to begin by asking yourself a clarifying question: are you wanting out of party planning activities because you truly don’t enjoy doing them anymore, or is it because you’re starting to feel as if you’re being “pigeon-holed” as the office event planner? Of course, in either case, it’s your complete prerogative to define your social roles at work, but depending on your answer, I might handle this situation in two different ways. Let’s examine each:
Scenario #1: Let’s say you’ve had your fill of planning parties, plain and simple. So, to begin with, it’s a good idea to have a solution in mind before you attempt to extricate yourself from this role. (By the way, it’s always a good idea to have a solution in mind before you go messing around with the status quo in any situation – people are generally resistant to change.) The best choice here: switch to a “round-robin” method of event planning. It’s virtually inarguable – there’s basically nobody out there who’ll say to you, “Nah, I think you should plan all of our events, now and forevermore”. (If that happens, run from this person! They’re definitely not your friend or your advocate.)
Here’s how you execute your exit strategy. First, it’s best to wait until the next party-organizing request comes down the pike. (Be forewarned that you’re going to have to suffer through planning just one more party, but trust me, the tremendous upsides to this plan are worth it.) So, I’m imagining that someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, Kelly’s birthday is next week. Can you put together a party plan and send an email around the office? And take up a collection for a gift?” Perfect! Because now you have the opportunity to come off as a cooperative team player, and to end your stint as office party planner.
You enthusiastically reply, “Of course, I would love to plan Kelly’s birthday party. I’ll take care of it right away. And while we’re talking, I think we should begin sharing the party planning responsibilities among everyone. I’ll handle it this time, and then next time, let’s invite someone else to do it. I’ll email around a note and a sign-up sheet, and with twenty of us in this office to divide up the task, it won’t be burdensome for any one person. Plus, it’ll be fun to get some fresh ideas from others.”
Notice a couple important things here. First of all, you didn’t ask permission. You asserted yourself in a statement, you presented a solution, you explained how it’s going to work, and you even gave a reason why this new method of handling parties might have some real advantages. You didn’t give anyone a chance to push back, you got what you wanted, and you were positive and polite along the way. After all, wouldn’t a true team handle social event planning this way, and your solution shouts “team player” through and through!
Scenario #2: In this situation, you actually like planning parties and get-togethers, but you’re starting to feel like you’re being “typecast” in the minor role of “office parent” and you already have the starring role of “real parent” when you go home each night. (Plus, you’d occasionally like to be asked to perform a task more challenging than ordering get-well balloons for the parking lot attendant while you’re trying to finish your financial report, or wrapping a last-minute wedding gift while hiding in the broom closet!)
So, in this second scenario, if you technically like the role but not the image, I would think twice before I jettisoned the whole works. It’s called “reframing,” and it means that you examine whatever’s bothering you – in this case, your role as party planner – and you figure out whether there might actually be some joy, value, pleasure, and opportunity in it. Look at it this way: 1. You, more than practically anyone else in the office, have “clearance” to interact with just about anyone, including the bosses and higher-ups, and possibly even the people in other departments. 2. And when you do interact with others, the mission you’re on is generally a positive, engaging one – ”you’re seen as a welcome interruption, a person who’s associated with something fun. 3. You’re showing others (including the people who make decisions about your future) that you’re organized, a self-starter, able to handle complex projects, creative and resourceful, and possibly promotable. (Before you dismiss this advice, I know several people – both women and men – who swear their promotions came from being noticed as the de facto social event planners at work.)
Next, how do you change the ho-hum image of “party planner” into something that floats your boat? Elevate it! Give yourself a promotion and a title to go with it. I mean a real title, such as, “Office Function Planning Officer, or, “Third Floor Event Coordinator.” And start referring to yourself that way when you send out a memo about the next holiday party, or make a call to the local bakery to order a birthday cake. After a short time, it’s human nature that others will follow suit – and you will graduate from lowly “party planner” to “Executive Event Planner Extraordinaire” (Wow, that’s a pretty nice title right there- feel free to use it.)
So, before you gather up your noisemakers and party hats and ride off into the sunset, just make sure it’s something you really want to do. There are times when we become weary of our roles, tasks, and the resulting assumptions people make about us, and while our weariness might sometimes signal that it’s time for a change, there are other times when “reframing” is the answer. (That, and possibly a nice long vacation, far away from hired magicians, balloon-animal clowns, and karaoke machines!)
How about you? Do you have a question you’d like for me answer in a future article? Just send it to my website (and indicate whether you want me to mention you by name – I’m always happy to give you a social media shout-out!), and I’ll see whether I can tackle it. And if I use your question for a future article, I’ll send you a free copy of my latest book, “Work it! Get in, Get noticed, Get promoted” as thanks!