By Margery Weinstein
Bridal gowns and wedding cakes wouldn’t seem to be the purview of a corporate office, but during the summer, they often are. Wedding season means employees taking time off for lengthy honeymoons, and months before that, an employee whose mind may be checked out a quarter of the time planning his or her big day.
More importantly, the social dynamics of weddings often spill into the workplace, with co-workers feeling slighted if they weren’t invited, or feeling befuddled if invited by a work “frenemy.”
All this came to mind last week when I stumbled upon a workplace advice column, “Ask a Boss: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Weddings and Work” in New York Magazine that addressed sticky workplace-related wedding questions.
One question brought back memories: “Are you expected to attend a co-worker’s wedding if you get an invitation?” The advice columnist, Alison Green, suggests that you go as long as you truly want to go: “If you’d like to go, assume the invitation is a genuine one and attend! But otherwise, it’s okay to graciously bow out.”
In the early 2000s, I had a thorny workplace situation. My boss, the editor-in-chief of a trade publication, loved me, while the executive editor I worked under saw me as a competitor, and was icy and unpleasant toward me. Magnanimous at first, I eventually returned her hostile feelings. We were a small work group of just seven people, and the executive editor decided she wanted to invite her co-workers, so there was no graceful way to not invite me. I knew that, and instead of being gracious, and making up an excuse not to attend, I showed up and reveled in her displeasure at seeing me there. The reception was at a restaurant located in a very hard-to-find place, but a place that also happened to be around the corner from where I had grown up. So, I happily took shortcuts to get there before everyone else, including the bride, and strutted like a peacock in front of the cute, old-timey car that transported her and her husband to the reception, before she could get out of the car, and without looking at the car, to wave or otherwise acknowledge her. I also bought her an overly expensive gift to further rub my presence in her face.
That story probably makes me sound like Nelly from “Little House on the Prairie,” the nasty, spoiled child who was Laura Ingalls’ nemesis. But, believe it or not, I’m not an unusually mean person. So what I’m getting at is I doubt that my situation and behavior are that unusual. From the perspective of the manager’s desire to keep a harmonious workplace, how could this situation have been averted?
The obvious solution would be to never let such a poisonous relationship between manager and employee develop. But once developed, with personal/social and work lives sometimes overlapping, what’s the best course? In leadership development, there should be coaching on the interpersonal dimension of management, anticipating that there will be bosses and employees and co-workers under the leader’s supervision who won’t get along. If both employees in the conflict are high-performers, it’s not as simple as choosing to terminate one of them. That also wouldn’t be fair, especially in a situation like mine in which the manager’s hostility and unpleasantness were due primarily to jealousy.
Recruiting and developing emotionally intelligent leaders at your company can avert a lot of discomfort. I wonder what a more emotionally savvy leader would have done to prevent my wedding faux pas. She and the executive editor were friends, so she probably knew in advance of her plans to invite everyone, including me, to the wedding. She might have suggested being more selective, and, say, only inviting herself. People would have understood the idea that you’re just inviting your boss, but not your other co-workers. Or she might have suggested the executive editor sit down with me and be direct: “Margery, as you know, I’m getting married. I’d like to include everyone in our work team, including you, at the wedding. I know there’s been some tension between us, so I understand, and won’t take it personally, if you don’t want to attend.” If she had said that to me, I might have taken that as my cue to gracefully bow out, or if I did attend, I would have met her gesture with greater generosity. If I attended, it would have been with good intentions.
More importantly, this social event that had roped in our whole work group, whether or not we liked her (I wasn’t the only one attending who didn’t) could have been used as a catalyst to bring to light, and improve, our relationships with each other.
How can your leaders and managers keep interpersonal relations smooth, and even use the additional social opportunities that arise from weddings and other life events to improve team cohesion?