I don’t want to attend my work Christmas party. Is this a bad move?

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, the politics of the work Christmas party, transferring skills between career fields, and post-COVID Zoom etiquette with other nations.

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Our employer is holding a big Christmas party to celebrate the end of the year and expects everyone to be cheerful and excited when, to be honest, I am just exhausted. It has been a hell of a year with lockdowns, learning from home and ongoing uncertainty, and I am not sure that I want to spend it partying with people I feel like I barely know and haven’t seen in many months. I am worried it will seem rude not to go. What do you suggest?

I am not at all surprised you feel the way you do, and you’re right – it has been a hell of a year and most of us are just limping through to the finish line. In terms of the Christmas party, I recommend you do whatever you want to do. Forget what others might think.

If you do decide to go, I can guarantee there will be other people there feeling just the way you do and might be grateful to collapse in the corner with other like-minded souls eating bar snacks and drinking cocktails. The last two years have been long and unlike any we have ever experienced. If there has ever been a time to allow yourself the freedom to do what you want to do rather than what you think might be expected, this could be the year. And if you decide to stay home, perhaps just let someone at work know as a courtesy. Merry Christmas!

PTSD recently put an end to my 24-year career as a police officer. I have started thinking about a new career, but everything I look at requires a tertiary qualification. I became a police officer when I was 20 years old, which didn’t leave a lot of time for tertiary study. People keep telling me I have transferable skills, that I am a great communicator and that I have tonnes of life experience. But where do those skills fit in the real world? When it comes down to it, employers want degrees and I feel like I haven’t got a chance.

I am so sorry to hear your experience as a police officer has been so traumatic for you and further, that you are having a hard time transitioning to a new career. Please don’t give up hope. Your experiences will be valuable to the right employer and now it is just a matter of finding the right fit for you. Please continue to take care of your own mental health first and foremost.

I do think there are employers who will value the resilience, community service and other skills your police career has given you. Does the police service you worked for offer any career transition services? They might be worth speaking with to understand the various avenues that you could consider. Otherwise, have a think about the kind of roles you would most enjoy doing and perhaps some dream employers you would like to work with. Rather than waiting for a job advertisement to come along, you might consider contacting companies proactively to let them know how much you would like to work with them and why you think you have all the skills they may not even have realised they needed. Good luck!

I have been asked to present a workshop to a group located in the Middle East. Pre-COVID, I would have flown there and presented in person and as a woman, I would have dressed modestly and covered my head as a mark of respect for the local people and their culture. However, I’ll be presenting virtually, and attendees will know I am in Australia. I haven’t been asked to dress in any manner. What is the professionally and culturally sensitive approach in this situation?

Like most of us, I have spent much of the last two years presenting virtually and one thing I always make sure I do is dress appropriately for the occasion. This week for example, I had to give a keynote address to a room of people I knew were in black tie formal wear. I made sure I dressed the same as I would have had I been there even though I was speaking from home. (Although just between us, I will confess I only had formal wear up top, with tracksuit pants and bare feet on below!).

In your situation I would dress as though I was going to be there in person – so, modestly and cover my head. It is a simple thing to do and a sign of respect that will be appreciated by those listening at the other end.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected]. Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an award-winning leader, author, executive coach and public speaker; she is the former deputy chair of the ABC. You can connect with Kirstin at kirstinferguson.com or on Twitter @kirstinferguson and LinkedIn @kirstinferguson.

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