How to Get Through the Office Holiday Party With Your Career and Dignity In Tact

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Holiday parties are a great time to bond with your coworkers, but things can also turn quickly when alcohol and celebrating is involved.

Karl stands so close to you when he’s talking that you can taste what he had for breakfast.

Linda leaves her food in the breakroom refrigerator until it starts to move.

Samir always seems to finish off the coffee pot, but never seems to get another one started...

These, or others much like them, are your coworkers. They are the people that you see when you don’t get to see the people that you want to see, in the place that you go when you don’t get to go where you want to go. In short, they aren’t your friends; they’re your colleagues.

Approximately half of U.S. employees dislike their coworkers, and even if you are the exception and get along with your coworkers famously from 9 to 5, there’s a good chance that once the quitting bell rings, you’re perfectly content to leave that relationship in the office with your eight bosses and that unfinished stack of TPS reports.

So, it makes perfect sense that you’d want to celebrate the holidays with these people.

Related Article: Beware of Egg Nog: 15 Office Holiday Party Do’s and Don’ts

Holiday office parties are a unique phenomenon. They are the crowning event that tops off the rest of the year’s office interactions, and like a single acorn that may grow into a mighty oak, they contain within them the seed-like potential to completely destroy any semblance of the respect and professionalism that the company has spent the last 11 months attempting to repair.

Want to make sure your coworkers take your next presentation on “Synergizing 110 percent to Reach New Thought Leader Paradigms” seriously? Then the best way to do it is probably not by downing a case of boxed wine in front of everyone and karaokeing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” while sitting pantless on the printer. After all, the company party may be about having a good time, but every other day in the work year is

After all, the company party may be about having a good time, but every other day in the work year is about not being thought of as a complete jackass. That having been said, 78 percent of employees see it as an important part of company culture, and those who simply neglect to attend the annual holiday shindig can come off as withdrawn, or worse, not a team player.

What’s an employee to do?

Never fear. From mildly embarrassing to career-ending, we’ve distilled America’s holiday party mistakes down into this helpful list of five holiday party survival tips. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with it, and you won’t have any trouble getting through the least anticipated party of the year.

1. Don’t: Get Plastered

We know what you’re thinking: How can I have fun at a party if I’m not imbibing copious amounts hootch? Well, let us explain. First of all, no one calls it ‘hootch’ anymore. Secondly, while getting blackout drunk may be a fine and wholesome way to spend an evening with friends and family, remember what we said about your coworkers back in the intro? They’re not your friends. No matter how your company may dress it up, the truth is that the company party is not a social function; it’s a business function. That means that whatever you do at the party could have a lasting impact on your job. Is that unfair? Sure, but it’s also just the way it is. And while being a bit tipsy in and of itself may not be the worst thing that you can do at a company holiday party, the ‘Devil’s drink’ has a tendency to lead you directly to some of the ‘worst

No matter how your company may dress it up, the truth is that the company party is not a social function; it’s a business function. That means that whatever you do at the party could have a lasting impact on your job. Is that unfair? Sure, but it’s also just the way it is. And while being a bit tipsy in and of itself may not be the worst thing that you can do at a company holiday party, the ‘Devil’s drink’ has a tendency to lead you directly to some of the ‘worst thing you can do’ scenarios pretty quickly. 

The good news is that this may not even be an issue in your company, as approximately 40 percent of organizations are choosing not to offer alcohol at company holiday parties, and of those that are serving alcohol, approximately 70 percent are choosing to regulate employee alcohol consumption through the use of drink tickets. 

Of course, that means that you probably won’t get to watch the head of HR pole-dance around the Christmas tree, which might otherwise have been the highlight of the evening...

2. Do: Be Social

Look, we get that trying to have a good time while under the constant glare of upper management is not the most entertaining situation you could find yourself in, but hiding isn’t the answer. Because just as letting loose and making an ass of yourself can hurt your work reputation, so too can sequestering yourself away and refusing to socialize. And don’t think that you can just stick with the rest of the people on your team, either. If you don’t get out there and mingle with people from other departments (and even some of your bosses), people are going to think of you as withdrawn and introverted. Is there anything wrong with that? No. Of course not. In fact, coworkers love introverts. Specifically, they love dumping extra assignments and responsibilities on their heads.

If you don’t get out there and mingle with people from other departments (and even some of your bosses), people are going to think of you as withdrawn and introverted. Is there anything wrong with that? No. Of course not. In fact, coworkers love introverts. Specifically, they love dumping extra assignments and responsibilities on their heads.

In fact, coworkers love introverts. Specifically, they love dumping extra assignments and responsibilities on their heads. What introverts don’t generally have dumped on them are promotions, however. So, if you want to climb that corporate ladder, climb out of your chair and rub some elbows. As we’ve said: Office holiday parties are business functions, plain and simple, so you might as well go do some networking. Just try to discuss topics other than work, when possible.

Related Article: Office Party Horror Stories: Avoiding Similar Issues This Holiday Season

3. Don’t: Be the Office Clown

A light-up bow tie? A bit of vodka in the punch bowl? Inappropriate jokes at the expense of others!? Man oh man, it looks like this party is about to get off the hook. But in all seriousness, don’t be that guy. Don’t make the party about your crusade to get Brandon from accounting to finally crack a smile, or to bring quiet old Cherlynn out of her shell. The best parties are the ones in which everyone in attendance feels comfortable, and is able to have a good time at their own pace.

As funny as your antics may be to you, we’re going to suggest that they’re nothing but painfully awkward for everyone else. And if you think that your bosses wouldn’t orchestrate your termination just to save everyone from having to experience your bumbling humor in years to come, you’d better think again. And that’s assuming that none of your jokes cross the line—if coworkers feel as though your pranks are really personal attacks, then you had better be prepared for some serious repercussions.

27 percent of Americans have claimed to have suffered abusive conduct while in the workplace, and a whopping 72 percent are aware that it happens, so you can bet that there won’t be many people trying to defend your right to make fun of someone’s religion or body type (or anything else). Most of the other attendees are probably just hoping to get through the evening with a modicum of dignity intact. Give it to them. In fact, think of it as your holiday gift to the rest of the company—it will be much more appreciated than your wildly offensive impression of Frank from the mailroom.

4. Do: Dress Work-Appropriately

You want to have a good time. You want to kick up your feet. You want to let it all hang out. But don’t really let it all hang out, because the same people that are getting an eyeful of your goods at the office holiday party are the ones that you’ll be having to maintain some level of professionalism with once the party is over. 

Dressing provocatively has it’s place, and a bit of cleavage, some thigh, or even just some tight clothing can sometimes help draw attention when it’s needed. It’s just that the company holiday party is not the place for it. A good rule of thumb is this: If you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing your outfit in the office, then don’t wear it to the party, because they’re basically the same thing. 

A 2014 survey indicates that appearance is the second most important indication of professionalism in the workplace, and any damage you do to your professional reputation at the holiday party is going to follow you back to your desk come Monday. If you’d like to show off how nice your body is, then more power to you, just try to do it in a way that is classy rather than sleazy. If, on the other hand, you’ve come to the office party looking for a bit of naughty and nice, then let’s rush you on down to our final holiday party tip.

5. Don’t, Under Any Circumstances: Sleep With a Coworker

We hate to come off as a bunch of killjoys, but here we go: Don’t have sex with any of your co-workers at the office party. Just don’t do it. There may be alcohol flowing.

You might suddenly realize just how nice Pat from accounting is looking this evening. It could even be nothing more than a fun spur-of-the-moment fling that you both agree to forget about as soon as you're done. But you won’t forget, and neither will anyone else who finds out about. And, aside from being the kind of awkward indiscretion that can ruin reputations, derail business relationships, and give gossip mongers enough ammunition to outlast your career, there’s a good chance that it’s also against company policy, and could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Related Article: HR Horror Stories: What’s the Absolute Worst Thing You Could Do on the Job?

Besides, sneaking away to the intern room to get all tangled up on cheap office furniture isn’t nearly as ‘magical’ of an experience as you might hope. If Karl, Linda, and Samir annoy you in the office, then can you really expect better results in bed? When partying with your company, the only sack you should be trying to get into is the one carried by Santa. That reminds us, there are certain things you should know about holiday white elephant gift exchanges...

But that’s an article for another time.     

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