Happily Ever After at Work

It’s that season: While weddings should be times of celebration, they can create minefields in the office, with job consequences

By LAURA RAMSAY, Wednesday, July 16, 2008 Page C1

Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail

Special to The Globe and Mail

An insurance claims processor is getting married next month – and the big day can’t come soon enough for her co-workers.

The bride-to-be works 9 to 5. But, lately, says one colleague who is an office assistant, a lot of that time has been spent on planning her August wedding – yakking on the phone with florists, sending preparation update e-mails, and skipping out early to discuss menus with caterers.

Her colleagues at first indulged the bride-to-be’s lengthy analyses of bridesmaids’ dress colours and venue options. However, the bride-to-be’s lack of focus on her job has been forcing co-workers to pick up the slack, the office assistant says.

And they are getting fed up.

“Other people manage to get married without doing the whole thing on company time,” she complains.

The bride-to-be knows her co-workers are irritated, and says some have even made “snarky” comments to her.

But she is unrepentant.

The wedding is “coming so fast that I don’t really have a choice,” says the bride-to-be, who asked not to be named, adding that she made up the time for her early departure and had hoped co-workers would be more understanding.

All of this could be ringing familiar at workplaces right now: About a quarter – 26 per cent – of weddings in Canada take place in August, with July and September combined accounting for another 30 per cent, according to an online poll of readers by Weddingbells magazine.

While weddings are supposed to be a time of celebration, they can also create minefields in the workplace, with job consequences if they aren’t navigated carefully.

Focus on the wedding instead of work and you risk being seen as a slacker, alienating co-workers and bosses. Snub a colleague or supervisor who expected to be invited, and don’t be surprised by a frosty reception next time you need assistance or have to work on a project together.

Complicating matters is the fact that the couple lives in Calgary but the wedding is being held in Winnipeg.

With little vacation time left for the year, the couple will be back at work on the Tuesday after their Saturday wedding. They’re waiting until the winter to go on a honeymoon.

Other couples, such as Xiaopu Huang, 23, and fiancé Joseph Fung, 27, of Kitchener, Ont., have also taken measures to ensure wedding planning doesn’t interfere with work.

Ms. Huang is a marketing and communications officer for Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc., a not-for-profit economic-development organization. Mr. Fung owns a Kitchener Web design firm, Lewismedia Inc.

Let the boss be the last to know or annoy him or her with too many requests for days off and the impression that you’re more interested in your personal life than your job may haunt you next time salary discussions roll around or that promotion is in the offing, experts say.

“People aren’t getting paid to plan their weddings,” says career coach Colleen Clarke, president of Colleen Clark and Associates in Toronto.

So how much should you talk about the wedding at work? What are acceptable ways to deal with preparations without compromising your job? And who should be on the guest list?

Brides- and grooms-to-be who also want to live happily ever after at work would be wise to consider such issues, the pros say.

Lisa Hanslip, owner of Wedding Planner, a Calgary wedding and event-planning firm, cites industry figures suggesting it takes 250 hours to organize even the most basic affair.

“For the most part, it’s not possible to plan a wedding entirely outside of work,” she says, because that’s when the caterers, photographers and other vendors are available for consultation.

“You look at the Web traffic on the larger wedding sites. There are two peak times – one of them is in the middle of the afternoon,” with 45 per cent of traffic, she says. The second is in the evening.

Indeed, wedding preparations can be so time-consuming and fraught with inadvertent etiquette breaches that Barbara Jaworski, president of the Toronto-based Workplace Institute, says she once considered developing a work-life program about wedding planning to complement her more typical offerings on topics such as childcare, eldercare and stress management.

“Like many things in your life cycle, you may only do it once, but the learning curve is huge,” says Ms. Jaworski, who didn’t follow through only because of time constraints for other projects.

Those who try to keep work and wedding separate find a lot of juggling involved.

Lyndsay Walker, 26, Web analytics and search engine optimization co-ordinator for WestJet Airlines Ltd. in Calgary, says that when she became engaged to Dave Blahut, 35, a Web programmer for Naylor Publications, it was easy to find the time outside of work hours to take care of the big things, such as picking the reception venue.

As their Aug. 9 wedding date draws nearer, however, she has had to dip into her vacation days because “I just don’t have time to deal with all the little details.”

To avoid disruptions, the couple did front-end research online at home and arranged late-afternoon appointments.

“The closest we came to [conflicting with] office hours was we had to see a decorator at 5 p.m. one time,” Mr. Fung says. “I don’t want to set a bad example for other people in the office.”

These are smart moves, say the pros, who warn against letting weddings interfere with work.

When it comes to wedding chat, the pros say it is wise to limit it in the office.

“Some people stand around the water cooler talking about their wedding [saying] things like, ‘I got my gravy boat today.’ People really don’t care” and some, in fact, find such chatter irritating, Ms. Clarke says.

If people ask how preparations are going, respond with a “fine,” thank them for asking, then move on to another subject. Don’t be rude, Ms. Hanslip says, but it’s best to talk work, not weddings, at work.

Using the Internet to do research is also time-saving, but that doesn’t mean using your office computer. Rather, that time should be spent on non-work hours.

But, sometimes, that’s not possible: Some things must be seen and approved in person, and some people are only available during work hours.

To help cope with those realities, Ms. Jaworski suggests understanding on the part of bosses, allowing employees to take leaves of absence, use up vacation time and work flexible hours.

“Even if people are taking time during the day to do whatever research they need to be doing, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not getting their job done. They may just need to stay later and do more work in order to make those daytime contacts.”

But it’s wise to check with your boss before taking time off, Ms. Clarke says. And determine up front whether you’ll be using holiday time to do so or if it’s okay for you to make up the hours.

Whatever flexibility a bride or groom may need, they shouldn’t let it affect co-workers. Don’t expect a colleague to do your work while you scout centerpieces, Ms. Clarke says.

Another no-no: Don’t use office e-mail to send out wedding invitations. Instead, quietly ask those you want to invite for home addresses, and mail invitations there.

It is always a good idea to tell your boss early on as a courtesy that you’re getting married, the pros say.

When Ms. Huang got engaged, her boss was one of the first people she informed. She felt it was only fair to give sufficient notice for an extended absence.”It’s a small office and I had to let him know that I’d be leaving for a month” to honeymoon in China after the Sept. 27 wedding.

And what about invites? One of the stickiest workplace/wedding issues is determining which, if any, office mates to invite.

“You are certainly going to run into some issues, particularly if you work with a small team and you invite a couple of people and not the others, because then people take it personally. So it’s like: ‘Well, they don’t like me, why didn’t I get invited?’ ” says Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Weddingbells.

As a general rule, Ms. Hanslip suggests inviting only colleagues with whom you socialize outside the office. “Generally, unless you have the space to invite your entire core circle at work, it’s better to invite no one from work. And if you are just inviting one or two people from work, it’s best to keep it quiet.”

If the subject comes up, explain “that it’s stressful keeping the guest list down” and, if appropriate, say you have a limited budget and/or the venue only holds a small number of people, she suggests

But Ms. McGill says accepted protocols of the past aren’t always followed today. “Because the size and the types of celebrations have changed so dramatically in the last seven to eight years, I think the etiquette has broken down a little on all of this.”

What about your boss? Ms. McGill says you should invite your superior as a courtesy. Then again, that depends on the nature of your relationship and the size of the wedding.

Inviting your boss would always have been expected in the past but the etiquette has grown fuzzier, Ms. Hanslip observes. “I would say it is probably not expected” any more, she says. “The exception would be if you have a very close working relationship.”

No matter whom you invite from work, their spouses or partners must always be included, even if you’ve never met, Ms. McGill says.

That may make your affair a lot bigger than expected. Ms. Huang and Mr. Fung are paying for their wedding themselves and had envisioned a small event. Now the guest list exceeds 120, and includes all co-workers and spouses.

“One of my staff got married last year and invited everyone in the office, which set the standard for the rest of us,” jokes Mr. Fung, who asked a co-worker to be his best man.

Another etiquette issue, new to the virtual era, is whether to invite online colleagues. Ms. Walker says she meets a lot of people over the Internet through her work and has become friends with some, even if they rarely meet. In fact, she met her fiancé through a virtual friend, who is coming to the wedding, as are five other online acquaintances of Ms. Walker and one virtual colleague of Mr. Blahut.

There are no formal rules yet for determining when online colleagues should be invited; experts suggest using the same criteria you use to determine which office buddies to invite.

Bridal showers can create additional friction in the office. “Co-workers should not ever be invited to the bridal shower if they’re not invited to the wedding,” Ms. Hanslip says.

And if co-workers organize a shower at work, colleagues should not feel obligated to contribute if they don’t want to or can’t afford it, Ms. Jaworski says.

The insurance claims processor is getting a gift card and cake from co-workers, some of whom are going to the wedding. Her office assistant colleague says that getting some of the others to ante up has been a tough sell, as many in the office think they’ve contributed enough already by covering for the bride-to-be.

“We’re all hoping she’ll get back to being her normal self once the wedding is over.”

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Wedding vows

Here are tips from the experts on how to stickhandle wedding etiquette issues at work:

When should you tell your boss you’re engaged?

Early on, out of respect. You don’t have to go into many details, although it’s helpful to inform your boss of the wedding date and what time you’ll be taking off.

How much can you talk about your wedding at work?

Keep it to a minimum. If people ask how preparations are going, say ‘fine’, thank them for asking, and move on to another subject without being rude.

Should you invite your boss?

It would be a courtesy, along with his or her spouse. However, the decision depends on your relationship with your boss, and the size of your wedding. Experts say an invitation would have always been expected in the past, but times changed.

What about co-workers?

Invite only those with whom you’ve become close enough friends to socialize outside of the office. If you work with a small team, either invite all, or none.

What if uninvited co-workers are offended?

Let them tactfully know your constraints (budget, numbers the venue can hold) and that you can’t invite everyone you would like to.

What about colleagues’ partners?

You must always invite a person’s spouse or live-in partner. It’s nice if singleton friends can bring a guest, but if you can’t accommodate that, it’s okay to invite someone solo as long as you seat that person with others who are also coming alone.

What are the smartest moves for planning a wedding without compromising work?

Use the Internet to do research on your own, non-work time. Use e-mail after hours to arrange a lot of preparations. If you have to duck out during work hours, make sure you check first with your boss and arrange to make up the time or use vacation days. Don’t expect co-workers to pick up the slack while you use company time to organize your wedding. If it gets too crazy, hire a professional planner to help out.