|Just your cup of tea, from ajft via flickr|
"How nice, yes please. Just milk."
A perfectly ordinary exchange, like millions heard in offices up and down the country.
But don't be fooled - behind these 12 innocent words is a complex web of social obligation and potential irritation just waiting to dribble down the front of your metaphorical clean shirt.
Most of the time, I work at home although through the freelance years I've been to half a dozen workplaces to ply my various trades. (So if you're from one of them, rest assured, this is about one of the others.) Oh and I did have some proper jobs before then...
Here's what I've learnt from my outings into the office:
If it's a game you can't win, then don't play. When I first started at the going to work in an office thing - much like life really - I naively believed that life was fair, that if you followed the rules, then you had every chance of coming out, at least, evens. Not so. Not by a long chalk. There was a chap at one office who expected to be brought cups of PG Tips every time anyone made a round, but he never, ever returned the favour. It wasn't that he was in a lofty position, he just thought he ought to be. My solution was to opt out. I decided to bring in my own 'special' tea and not to bother with the whole arrangement.
Which brings me to - how to deal with a dodger. It all depends on who's doing the dodging and what the consequences of having it out would be. There seems to be always one in each office who "yes, pleases" willy-nilly but would rather eat his golf club tie than make tea for someone else. You have a couple of options:
- Pointedly don't ask him.
- Pointedly tell him it's his turn.
- Repeatedly make really horrible tea and he might stop accepting.
Speaking of ownership - I'm a mug. Boss person, while you're off to the cash and carry for Tetley's and Nescafe, can I humbly suggest you get a gross of mugs too. There are some workplaces where crockery levels are disastrously low and some people come to work early to get first dibs on the clean ones - whoever they belong to. This never ends well.
Learn the local rules fast. If you're going to be involved in the tea tango then you need to work out the finer points sharpish. There will be an expectation that just because you sat next to someone for a morning, you will know that they ONLY drink soya milk or must have that blue mug AND NO OTHER. If your presentation of a steaming mug is met by a sharp intake of breath - you've got it wrong and you're most probably doomed.
The wisdom of kiss-ass. Do you ask the boss if they want a beverage or not? If you do you could be ostracised as a brown-nose, if you don't boss might bear a grudge.
Mess management. Brown lumps in the sugar and other nasties are a whole other hornets' nest. If you find lumps, stains, smears or spilt stuff, what do you do?
- Tell everyone what's happened and see who owns up. (Risky)
- Rant about how revolting they all are and see who owns up. (Very risky)
- Leave it. (Riskier yet - you might get the blame)
- Clean it up. (Riskiest - you've earmarked yourself as domestic dogsbody)
I've learnt that figuring out the intricacies of the tea round takes me about the same length of time as my temporary employment and, generally, it's not worth the bother. So if you ever wonder why I sip my glass or water or bought-in Costalot crappuccino in splendid isolation, it's because the alternative is just not my cup of tea.