lifestyle

How to tell the difference between a work meeting and a party


Wait, is this a party or a meeting? We’ve all been there Boris (Pictures: PA/Twitter)

Boris Johnson has been urged to resign in PMQs today after it emerged that he allegedly attended a work party at the height of lockdown.

The PM has said he is sorry for the gathering that took place in the garden of Number 10 on May 20, 2020, but insists he thought it was a ‘work event’.

Given that an email – sent to around 100 staff members – invited them to ‘bring their own booze’ to the garden drinks event, it isn’t entirely clear how this misunderstanding could have happened.

Maybe working in government during a global crisis is so much fun that meetings regularly feel like social gatherings? Who can say.

But if you find yourself in a similar situation to the Prime Minister – unable to tell if you’re at a work meeting, or if it is in fact a party – we decided to flag some of the key things that will help you tell the difference.

You’ll usually be in a work environment

It can be tricky to tell the difference (Picture: Getty)

In an office, boardroom or meeting room? It’s likely you’re at a formal work event. Not a party.

Obviously, this doesn’t count in every case – work Christmas parties or cheese and wine events can be held within the office space outside of work hours – but generally, if you’re in an area that’s usually used for work, that’s probably what it is.

Kate Palmer is the HR advice & consultancy director at Peninsula, she explains: ‘As seen from the government’s examples in past months, the line between a work meeting and work party can be very easily blurred.

‘This being said, generally, any event which is considered an extension of the workplace (e.g. post-meeting social drinks) can have an impact on employment.

‘Similarly, any issues arising in connection to a work-related event can be considered the liability of the employer.’

So, it’s important to know what kind of event you are attending.

The conversations will be about work

Chatting about your family, your love-life, or your recent weekend break happens quite a bit at work – but it is normally reserved for coffee breaks and water-cooler interactions.

If you’re having full conversations for the majority of the event that don’t relate to work – you’re likely at a party or an informal gathering.

‘When considering whether an event is for work or social purposes, individuals should take into consideration factors such as who it was organised by, and what was discussed during this time,’ adds Kate.

‘Discussion of your favourite cheese and paired wine is unlikely to amount to a work discussion here, unless you run a vineyard, of course.’

There will be a certain level of formality

Is everyone drinking? It might be a party… (Picture: Getty)

Dress code alone may not indicate whether you’re at a meeting or a party, but it might help you figure it out.

If people are wearing casual clothes when they would normally be in suits or more professional attire, you might be at a party.

Peter Lawrence (FCIPD) managing director of Human Capital Department, agrees that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two sometimes, but he suggests taking a good look around to see how people are behaving, and try to gauge the vibe.

‘Look for any signs of work equipment – are phones, laptops, pens and paper being used?’ he says.

‘Asses the level of formality – is there a more formal dress-code? People looking less relaxed are unlikely to be genuinely enjoying themselves. Check the agenda to see if it says it is a work event or meeting.’

Kate adds that you should think about what standards and expectations – if any – have been imposed on the people in attendance.

‘Should employers, for example, require staff to not take any pictures of the “meeting” or share how much fun they had with external parties, these expectations are likely to be deemed a management instruction, further adding to the likelihood that the goings-on fall within the scope of normal employment rules,’ she says.

There won’t be any alcohol

Your workplace might have a policy of Friday afternoon beers, or something similar. But if there is alcohol being provided outside of these normal routines – you’re probably not at a work meeting.

‘Unless your job is providing wine-tasting sessions on your vineyard, drinking at work will never normally be a good idea,’ says Kate.

‘This is particularly important for those whose jobs pose extra health and safety risks, like delivery drivers.

‘The negative impact alcohol has on an individual makes it a bad mixer with work activities. Employers should consider having an alcohol (and drug) policy to set clear rules relating to the use and influence of such substances in the workplace.’

Peter adds that having a drink in a work setting isn’t completely unheard of, but it is always best to exercise caution.

‘My own view is that it’s OK to have an alcoholic drink at a work do in the evening, or even at lunchtime, but stick to one or two rather than a skin full,’ says Peter.

‘When I was working in corporate we met the new owners and one of the managers had too much to drink and collapsed on the floor. My boss called it a career limiting moment.’

So, if there’s an open bar, no sign of laptops, and people aren’t discussing work – it’s likely you’re at a party and not a meeting.

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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