Right away I looked at her and said, “Who says you aren’t at work anymore? You are sitting in a conference room in a building owned by your employer, at a class they are paying you to take with students who all work for the same company. You are absolutely at work. Anytime you are at a company sponsored event or with your co-workers you are at work.”
This is not the first time I have heard a student express this type of sentiment and not the first time that I bluntly shared my perspective. I feel strongly about this because it is this ‘I am not at work now’ attitude that can really get people in trouble.
Taking classes with co-workers can and should be an excellent opportunity to showcase who you are as a professional. A definite benefit of attending a class sponsored by your employer is the opportunity to meet people from other teams and departments. People you may not come in contact with through the course of your current position. This is a great way to build your network and learn about opportunities in other areas of the company.
I know of a specific instance where a client of mine (also a former student), came to me upset because she was not selected for a project at work. She thought for sure she would be selected for this project because she had attended class with one of the hiring managers for the project. She learned that her behavior in class did not work to her advantage. She was perpetually late for class and disruptive when she arrived. She went to great lengths to let everyone know how busy and important she was and so her class work was a lower priority. But everyone in class was busy and important and trying to balance work with home with school. Her fellow student and potential new manager was not impressed with this behavior and perceived my client as potentially high maintenance.
Is this right, is this fair? I don’t think that is the point. When you are with your co-workers you are at work. How you behave is being observed and noted. So whether it is a team meeting or a company softball team game your behavior is telling people exactly who you are. Of course you should be less formal at the softball game; but getting falling down drunk or challenging the umpire to a fight does leave people with an impression. A very bad impression that does follow you back to your desk.
When you are with your co-workers, you are at work.