Navigating the Work Event Minefield

corporate_eventsIt may only be Wednesday morning but you are having a great week and hitting your goals like a champ. Workout early Monday morning: Check! Hit the gym for yoga Tuesday after work: Check! Eat breakfast at home each morning: Check! Slow-cooker is currently making dinner: Check!

Then you get an email; “We’re celebrating Beth’s birthday at happy hour after work, see you there!” A minute later your coworker pops his head in, “There’s a ton of cupcakes left over from my kid’s birthday in the kitchen, please grab one..or three!” Plus, you have a client lunch tomorrow at the Italian joint down the block.

It can seem like your job is the only thing standing between you and successfully reaching your goals. Finding work-life balance has a whole new meaning when changing poor habits. After all, you don’t want to alienate yourself, come off as rude or – worse yet – miss out on fun with your coworkers!

To move forward, it helps to recognize that workplace hurdles will always be there. It will always be someone’s birthday, someone will always have a baking habit and happy hour is the easiest thing to plan for any and all occasions.

What can change is how you handle these situations, all the while keeping your coworkers close and your goals closer.

Hurdle #1: Baked Goods in the Kitchen
Problem – You probably A) don’t want to sabotage your healthy habits with a chocolate chunk cookie, and B) don’t want to offend the cheerful coworker who made them from scratch.

Strategies – In a bigger office this is easy. When you pass Mr./Mrs. Bakegoods, thank them for bringing in the treats. That’s it! In a smaller office, or if they come and hand you a cookie, your resolve needs to be a little stronger. You could easily be getting hangry at 11am, or have a stressful morning but you know a cookie isn’t going to solve this. Take the treat, wrap it in a napkin or baggie and put it in your desk. “Thanks, I’m going to save this for dessert!’ is all they need to hear to know it’s appreciated. Whether you eat it after dinner, give it to your spouse or throw it away is up to you.

Full disclosure; when I had an office job, I was Mrs. Bakegoods since I’m often overcome on a Sunday to bake something. While I ate a good amount of the batter before actually baking, I didn’t need 50 cookies sitting on my table for my husband and I. That said, I didn’t care who ate them or who didn’t give them a second thought, I just needed to bake and needed them out of my house!

Hurdle #2: Team Lunch
Problem – You’d rather splurge on a meal out over the weekend with your friends, but this lunch is a meeting in disguise and not going is not an option.

Strategies – If you know where you’re going, take a look online at the menu when you aren’t starving and decide on a few options that fit your healthy eating goals. This way, once you arrive you have in your mind what you want and won’t be easily influenced by the 4 people who order a burger. If you’re offered fries or anything you do not wish to splurge on, know that you aren’t offending anyone by not partaking. Be the outlier, not the sheep! If you feel the need to defend your order, simply say you’re trying to eat a bit healthier or that you’re going out the next night.

Hurdle #3: Happy Hour
Problem – You prefer to keep your drinks to the weekend, but don’t want to miss out on socializing with your team. You also know that happy hour could easily have you home at 8 and the window for making a healthy meal will be closed.

Strategies – First, decide if it’s really worth going. Does Happy Hour seem to happen twice a week, every week? Say you’ll go to the next one and by accepting the offer every once in a while it won’t seem so out of the blue not to go, yet not seem like you NEVER accept. If you feel you need to go, that’s fine! Make a decision before you go, how many drinks align with your goals that week. It could be one, it could be three, whatever you decide, stay strong and be OK with that. Have a mental list of “better-for-you” drinks; light beer, vodka and club soda, a glass of wine, are all great examples. Sip it slowly and make your focus the people, which is why you came in the first place. Make it known beforehand that you can only stay for one (if that’s your personal limit), whether it’s because you have to start dinner, drive home, help your child with homework, it doesn’t matter, the point is to set the scene early.

Hurdle #4: Client/Networking Event
Problem – Your job requires schmoozing and if you don’t attend this cocktail reception, you aren’t doing your job. However these events tend to be sweet mixed drinks in unlimited quantities and appetizers that aren’t even pretending to be healthy, let alone filling.

Strategies – Do not arrive starving! You likely know about these types of events before hand so plan accordingly by bringing a filling snack to have before you arrive, or while you’re there. LARABAR, Kindor Zing are great minimal ingredient energy bar options, but get creative with string cheese, almonds, yogurt, peanut butter and banana, etc. Just like happy hour, focus on the task at hand. See how many people you can meet and stay away from the food table as you chat. It feels awkward to network without a drink in your hand, but who says it has to be an alcoholic drink? Sip on water, club soda, even a diet cola (last resort) and drink slowly, treating it like a prop. If the event doesn’t go that late, this is an optimal use for your slow cooker or leftovers. Just knowing that a healthy dinner is waiting for you at home makes it easier to turn down passed appetizers.

The more you practice these strategies, the easier it will be and the less you’ll think about it as a strategy, but simply as how you respond. The best thing to realize is that your coworkers do not care nearly as much as you think they do! Think of the last time you brought treats into the office or extended an offer for happy hour. Did you note every person who took a cookie? When Bob said he had to head home and couldn’t make happy hour did you spend one more second thinking about it? Have your treat but know that you don’t HAVE to eat it too.


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