The Holiday Office Party

How To Enjoy Yourself While Keeping Your Career Intact

The holiday season is here again, and with it the usual round of festivities, including the notorious annual office party, known in many modern savvy circles as “the annual business holiday party.” Companies sponsor this annual event to demonstrate appreciation to their employees; but underneath the good intentions lurk all sorts of minefields and pitfalls for the unwary employee.

First, it’s important to understand that the reason the office party is notorious is due to the misunderstanding on the part of many attendees that while the word “party” is in the title, this occasion is in reality simply another type of business networking event in which your professional manners will be on display to senior management on down, and should be approached as such. Unfortunately, the history of the office party is littered with the corpses of the careers of those who misunderstood this concept and thought the annual office party was an occasion to let their respective hair down and dance around with the proverbial lampshades on their heads.

Second, whether your particular party is company-wide or just for your department will determine the range of employees and senior managers to which you will be exposed. Styles of holiday parties run the gamut from formal sit-down dinner dances at upscale hotels and restaurants or a dinner party at your boss’s home to less formal celebrations at a local pub or in the office. Some companies sponsor a formal affair and the departments also hold their own informal celebrations, while at other companies the employees make the rounds of various departmental celebrations.

But, regardless of how formal or informal your company’s party style is, one expectation is universal: you, your manners and your behavior must shine if you expect to continue your career with upward mobility. As previously stated, the opposite is often true; that is, a career can come to a screeching halt because of one’s failure to exhibit proper etiquette and / or good judgment.

Third, the annual office party was frequently referred to as the “Office Christmas Party,” but no longer. The modern workplace is a multicultural one, composed of employees from various religious and cultural backgrounds, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others as well as those who are non-religious. Thus, the term “Holiday Party” is more inclusive.

To ensure that your presence at the annual holiday blast enhances your brand rather than leaves you looking for your next job, following is a 10-Step Plan to keep your career and reputation on track:

(1)  Should you attend? The short answer is, “yes.” Be brave; this is a prima in-house networking opportunity. Your boss and senior managers will be pleased with your attendance, and you may have a platform to meet members of the senior staff, as well as an opportunity to display your team spirit and good sportsmanship by supporting the company’s efforts at employee engagement.    

(2)  Respond promptly to invitations. Whether the invitation is the engraved kind to a formal dinner dance to which you may invite a guest, an evite or an oral announcement at the weekly department meeting, respond quickly to the organizers. If applicable, adhere to the rules to invite only one guest (your spouse, betrothed, significant other, date or friend) or no one if the party is for employees only. Once you have accepted, it is poor form to cancel unless you are seriously ill or highly contagious. If you must regret, have an excellent reason, such as you made plans two years ago to go to Rarotonga with your snorkeling club.   

(3) Participate in Secret Santa (or similar holiday gift swap). If your office agrees on a Secret Santa gift swap, stick to the rules.   

(4) Dress appropriately and professionally. Verify the dress code, if it’s not clear, and then dress a tad better than expected. Even if the dress code is business casual, men should wear a jacket and tie; women should wear a pant suit or stylish but modest dress. More formal occasions usually call for a business suit and tie for men and a short cocktail dress for women (not too short and no plunging necklines or backs please!). As dress codes these days can be ambiguous, however, it’s wise to avoid embarrassment by double-checking with the source of the invitation to ensure that you (and your guest!) do not arrive underdressed or overdressed.

(5) Avoid alcohol. Even if the booze is flowing and your coworkers are imbibing, to keep your reputation intact, as well as that professional brand on which you are working so hard, the rule is to abstain. Keep in mind that this is a business networking event with your coworkers and bosses. Business and alcohol do not mix, and it’s preferable that people are emotionally stirred, not shaken, by your behavior. Holding a soft drink or seltzer with a twist can be just as sophisticated as holding an alcoholic beverage, and can help to guarantee your behavior through the evening will remain dignified, alert and savvy.  

(6) Mind your table manners. Whether you’re mingling with your drink and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres, standing in the buffet line or sitting at a formal table setting, pay attention to your manners: 

  • Swallow your small bite of food before taking a sip of your drink.
  • Hold your drink in your left hand so that your right is free to shake hands.
  • Wait your turn in line.
  • Don’t reach for food.
  • Refrain from talking over people when standing in line.
  • Don’t fill your plate to overflowing; instead return for a refill.
  • Don’t talk or laugh with your mouth full. 

(7)  Mind your other manners.   

  • Don’t interrupt others.
  • Prepare two or three safe, light and entertaining topics of conversation (small talk); avoid discussions about business if possible, as well as politics and religion.
  • Smile; be attentive, pleasant and upbeat.
  • Introduce your guest to your boss and to those with whom you visit during the party. When you are introduced, repeat names to help you to remember them.
  • If you must leave early, let your host know in advance – either prior to the party or upon your arrival.
  • When you depart, say goodnight to the people with whom you have spent most of your time, and thank your boss for a great party. 

(8)  Avoid inappropriate behavior. This includes flirting, gossiping, using sarcasm, speaking or laughing too loudly, using crude language or saying anything negative about anyone.    

(9)  Be gracious. Show appreciation for your Secret Santa gift, a toast by a coworker or any compliments you may receive; likewise, feel free to toast and compliment others as well as accept their thanks. 

(10) Say thank-you the next business day. Send a thank-you email to the organizers and your boss (if they are different parties) whether or not you are in the office. Upon your return to the office, give an oral thank-you to your boss and any coworkers who worked on the party; this can be done in private or in public, say at a staff meeting. 

If you follow these conventions, you will make an exemplary showing at your annual office party, as well as have a good time and feel great about it the next day. To end the evening, go home, pour yourself an alcoholic drink (the first one of the evening, and if that’s to your taste), slip into something comfortable, pop a bowl of popcorn, sit back, put your feet up and watch the DVD of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967 movie), the Secret Santa episode of The Office (season 6, episode 12), or Seinfeld’s The Little Kicks episode — or all three! — and be grateful (and gratified) that you survived your annual office party unscathed!

Until next time,

Jeanne

 

6 thoughts on “The Holiday Office Party

  1. Jeanne Nelson says:

    Grace, I'm glad you enjoyed the column, as well as "How To Succeed," and that you braved your office party and survived it. May all your future holiday office parties be successes! Thanks very much for your wise observations and comments.

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  2. Grace says:

    Dear Jean, I´ve enjoyed this particular column so much ! How many times I have wondered whether to attend this kind of events (Holiday Office Party ) or not. In the end, I showed up -as you pretty well say- "to keep your career and reputation on track" , but how difficult it is at times to make sure you will be in the right mood and "showing real appreciation" for the invitation. With the passing of time you soon learn all this is expected from the employees though, believe me, it depends so much on the workplace and your boss rather than the senior managers. You boss is usually the one who makes the difference ! I really enjoyed How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967 movie) ! Yet, above all, it is your words, at the very end of this article that proved truly convincing and showed your expertise -at large- and your strong power of empathy for those who only feel more relaxed and definitely "grateful (and gratified)" when we have " survived" our annual office party "unscathed! " ( You´ve seen the picture, no doubt !)

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  3. Jeanne Nelson says:

    Thank you, Laura. I'm pleased that you found the office party suggestions helpful. You raise a good question regarding gaining the respect of the women and men you will be supporting. Without knowing the particulars of your position and relationship to the women and men you reference, I would suggest that the best approach would be to concentrate first on learning the technical aspects of the job and demonstrating your professionalism and competence first and foremost. The relationship-building should come naturally and not appear to be forced. Ascertain which among your new bosses is the most approachable and ask that person's advice on how to go about the process of getting to know each of the others. If that's not possible, when you are in conversation about assignments with each one, be attentive and, when appropriate, encourage conversation; ask relevant questions and deliver ahead of deadline when possible. You'll learn more about your new team by being a good listener during the normal course of business. Once you have proved to them that you are their dependable go-to person, the respect will follow.

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  4. Laura Anderson says:

    This is fantastic info Jeanne – I am beginning a new job as EA. I am worried about gaining the respect of what I hear is a tough group of tenured women & men. Any suggestions? I.e., one on one meetings/lunches to get to know work styles and their career goals.

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