Holiday office parties are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they provide a chance to relax—or network, if that’s your thing—outside of your cubicle. On the other hand, those seemingly innocent little wingdings can be pitted with potential land mines.
The combination of coworkers, employees, the boss, and booze could quickly turn you from being the life of the party into the cautionary tale of the workplace. In our first Holiday Parties without Tears we covered how to plan and throw the consummate office shindig. Here we explore some simple tips to keep your jingle bell from turning into jingle hell when you attend the annual workplace soiree.
Although the company party is meant to be fun, don’t forget that, first and foremost, it’s still a work function. “It’s important to remember you’re still representing your organization at such events,” Joseph Hernandez, a human resources expert who teaches HR classes at Portland Community College (PCC), told The FruitGuys Almanac.
Mind Your Manners (and Your Dress)
Keep in mind when you’re choosing an outfit for the company party that you probably want to err on the conservative side—this isn’t necessarily the place for your plunge-to-the-navel neckline or your provocatively sloganed T-shirt.
The company party is the place to break out those impeccable manners your mama taught you: Don’t talk with your mouth full. Be polite. Use a napkin. Don’t overload your plate. Make conversation.
Person to Person
When it comes to the social side of party-going, PCC’s Hernandez keeps it simple: “Do not do anything that you’ll regret later on.”
What kind of behavior might you regret? Being a little too upfront and bold when chatting to management and senior partners, to start. The party may seem like an opportune time to grab the boss’s ear, but don’t fall prey to this miscalculation. The boss is here to have a good time too—just like you—so respect that and keep the conversation light. “The more you can avoid organizational politics conversations, the better,” Hernandez says. By all means, he notes, avoid speaking negatively about colleagues.
This is not to say it’s not a good time to network. Introduce yourself to higher-ups, and definitely make an attempt to chat. “You will want to at least make it around the room and make your presence known,” Hernandez suggests. “It shows that you took time to attend and acknowledge the time and effort that went into the holiday party planning.”
While you are cruising the room, you want to make sure you’re making the right kind of impression. Avoid gossiping, and definitely refrain from romantic advances of any kind.
Don’t Drink too Much
So how are you going to be able to keep all of this advice in mind once you get to the party? Use this one simple trick: Don’t drink too much.
In fact, it’s probably best not to drink at all—getting drunk leads to bad decision making. Most of the above missteps can likely be avoided if you stick with nonalcoholic beverages.
If you do drink, do it very mindfully. “Employees should be cognizant of their consumption,” Hernandez says. It helps to start with a plan: Decide beforehand how many drinks you’re going to have, and stick to your limit. Try to limit it to one or two, and make sure to avail yourself of whatever food is there. Drinking on an empty stomach is a common mistake.
It can be tempting to try to get the most out of an open bar—but go for quality over quantity. Order a top-shelf drink and sip it slowly, or get a good glass of wine and take time to savor it. And if you do drink, make sure you have a designated driver, or cab it home.
Finally, take your significant other along (if spouses/partners are invited). The two of you can team up to keep each other’s alcohol consumption in check. There’s no better way to keep yourself on the straight and narrow than seeing the “honey, stop” look on your partner’s face from across the room.
Jonanna Widner lives in Portland, OR, where she writes about sports, music, travel, and fitness.