Workplace sports-league etiquette

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Workplace sports etiquetteAdmittedly, I’m not much of an athlete or even a sports-savvy person. But many of my colleagues are sports fanatics, and it’s high season for the various sports and recreation leagues offered in Chicago. I have to admit that I feel left out as my sports-loving co-workers buzz about the cute jerseys they just bought for the office sports team, analyze their upcoming competitors and discuss which bars to visit after the game.

While a part of me wishes I was blessed with hand-eye coordination — or any coordination, for that matter — so I could join in on the fun, another part of me wonders if it ever gets awkward playing on a team with, or competing against, co-workers. While I’m sure it’s mostly fun and games, I have to imagine it would be a little weird playing dodge ball against your boss — even if you would get some satisfaction out of hitting him with a ball. Or I think you’d feel somewhat uncomfortable having to tell your human-resources manager that she’s losing the game for you and needs to hit the bench.

That got me thinking about whether workers need to demonstrate some etiquette if they play on an office intermural team or an opponent is the person paying their salary. To get to the bottom of this workplace conundrum, I asked Jodi R. R. Smith, president of etiquette consulting company Mannersmith, for her thoughts on the topic.

She agreed that it’s a tricky one. “So much of how you should behave depends upon you, your personality, your boss, your boss’s personality, your field and the corporate culture where you happen to work,” Smith says.

“There are some offices where everyone is young; the ‘boss’ is only a year or two older than the employees and everyone is on a first-name basis. For these offices, you should be your ‘best self’ but can relax a bit. Then there are offices where there are large age differences and the office culture is much more formal. For these offices, you should maintain your professional persona.”

While there are no hard and fast rules, Smith shares these loose guidelines to consider when playing on a workplace sports team:

  • Dress conservatively: If there is a uniform, wear the uniform. Also be sure that it fits well but it’s not too tight. Avoid short-shorts or old cutoffs — they are great for a beach day with friends but not for being around those with whom you work.
  • Play fair: With friends, you might whoop it up and swear at an umpire for a questionable call. With work leagues, it’s best to maintain your composure. If this means sticking to the corporate non-alcoholic punch and avoiding the beer, so be it. You can partake in alcohol when with friends.
  • Position picking: Sporting activities are a great way to showcase out-of-office skills. By all means, let the coaches know your strengths and play well. Bosses can be humored, but games should not be thrown to humor the boss. 
  • Cheer, don’t jeer: Make a racket — cheering for your team. Don’t trash-talk the other team; it will make you look petty and rude. 
  • Have fun: Be a good sport in the conference room and on the playing field. If you win, thank the other team and tell them “good game.” If you lose, thank the other team and tell them “good game.”  Your diplomacy will go far.

The bottom line? Exercise common sense and follow your instincts — assuming that your instincts don’t tell you to swear at your boss for striking out.

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