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Survive the office holiday party and protect your career

The holidays represent a special time to take a moment to acknowledge and give thanks to family and friends.  In a corporate setting, the meaning is no different. Holiday parties are meant to celebrate the accomplishments of the year, allow leaders to give thanks for the hard work of their employees, and to get everyone excited about all the opportunities possible for the business in the New Year.

The last thing you want to do is turn all that good cheer into an embarrassing professional experience that ruins your career. Surviving the office party meaning having a good time without loosing your self control. Here are some basic rules to protect your reputation and career during a workplace holiday function.


Do dress accordingly

Although it’s a party, it’s still a work-related function. It’s not just about showing up – you have to dress appropriately for mixed company and not showcase outfits that you would wear with your friends during a crazy night on the town. Every work culture is different on the attitude towards acceptable casual attire at company gatherings, but even with loose guidelines, don’t use the office party as an excuse to dress provocatively.

Do network

As you wander around the event, make an effort to meet and interact with people you don’t normally see or spend time with. Shake hands, make eye contact, and leave an impression with those you meet – especially executives or management. If you sit out or cling to your date or familiar groups of friends the entire time, you could be missing an opportunity for your career. Keep your conversations simple and upbeat, not boring or all business. And out of respect of mixed cultures and traditions, stick to "Happy Holidays" to cover your initial greeting.

Do thank others

Make an effort to thank the party planners including the leadership, but also thank your coworkers and boss for their contributions made throughout the year. The thank you should be authentic and genuine so people can appreciate what you think about them. Keep the words simple so people feel the sincerity of your recognition. If you are a manager, this is an especially important gesture to make with your staff.

Do prepare your exit strategy

Office parties can linger and as the crowd thins, people notice who came just to show everyone they came (then quickly left), versus those that hung around all night (and possibly too long). Usually a good show of effort is about two hours. When you first arrive, things are getting going; people are fashionably late, and so on. By the second hour people will have had some food and drink and perhaps a gift raffle will have started. When you leave, don’t make a big deal about it – let your coworkers or boss know and make your way out. If you have a legitimate reason for going, that’s fine, but you don’t need to broadcast it. You should gauge your time to leave based on who you met, who saw you in the room, and the pulse of what’s happening. A good exit time is the dancing hour. Dancing typically comes after the main dinner service or other announcements, and is usually a sign of things winding down into the night.

Do enjoy the party

People might be overly anxious about a non-work party setting, worrying about what to say or what people will think of them. The reality is, a few good laughs and simply taking everything in is the main point of a party. Have a good time and commiserate with coworkers while being in the moment, rather than on the sidelines.


Do not lose control

Most holiday parties serve alcohol and with too much drinking comes behaviors people later regret. If you drink, monitor yourself or have someone monitor you so that you don’t slip and say something inappropriate to your coworkers or boss, or inadvertently reveal highly sensitive intellectual property that nobody (but you) is supposed to know. And by all means, don’t weigh anchor at the buffet table and pig-out.

Do not assume you can speak freely

Outside the confines of the office, people feel more relaxed and can be more genuine. That can include off-color jokes, crazy personal stories or quirks, political stances, or what you really think about your coworkers or boss. While office parties aren’t meant to be an environment for stiff banter, it isn’t an opportunity to vent or get things off your chest either. People are still listening, evaluating, and judging what you say and how you come across. Better to be pleasant and attentive in conversations than become the center of attention.

Do not bring inappropriate guests

Some parties invite employees +1 and others are for employees only. If you are allowed to bring a guest make sure the person understands the etiquette. That way if you have a critical conversation or networking opportunity, your guest can stand alone for that moment without you worrying about what he or she will say to others. Your guests are a reflection and extension of you, so pick the right one. And of course, never bring a guest when the party invitation did not specifically mention it.

Do not drink and drive

If you drink at the office party, absolutely do not drive. No matter how much you have had to drink. By choosing not to drive you demonstrate maturity and responsibility that will resonate with you boss and colleagues long after the party is over. If you are concerned about someone else at the party, arrange a cab for them. They will thank you later.

Jumping cartoon

Office parties are meant to be a fun get together for employees, not a boring or forced obligation that everyone reluctantly attends. If you present yourself properly with the right look, poise, and graciousness, you will get more traction out of the office party tradition. Use the party as a platform to enhance your career rather than create embarrassing memories that might end up in the corporate newsletter.

More expert advice about Managing Your Career as an Employee

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Tony DeblauweWorkplace and Career Expert

Tony Deblauwe is a Workplace and Career Expert and founder of consulting firm, HR4Change. He has over 15 years’ experience working in high-tech companies supporting Human Resources, Organizational Development, Talent Management, and Training. H...

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