Who hasn’t heard tales of holiday office parties gone horribly wrong? Too much booze, too much flirting, and other un-businesslike behavior has caused countless folks embarrassment, and ended some careers.
"Many people don’t realize that their social behavior is as important as their professional behavior. They fail to realize that the office party is still business and not a time to let loose," says Lydia Ramsey, business etiquette expert, speaker, and author of Manners that Sell: Adding the Polish That Builds Profits. "Inappropriate actions are remembered long after the party is over."
But that doesn’t mean you should avoid your organization’s holiday get-together. In fact, etiquette experts say going to the party is good manners -- and good for your job. Just be aware that a business party isn’t all about business, and it’s not all about partying -- it’s something in between.
Here’s a list of holiday office party dos and don’ts to help you get through your organization’s festivities unscathed -- and maybe you’ll actually have some fun.
Yes, you really DO have to go! "At a seminar, a young woman asked me if she should go to the CEO’s holiday party. She didn’t want to give up a Saturday night out with her friends. I had a simple answer: Go!" says Barbara Pachter, a business etiquette coach for Microsoft, Cisco, Pfizer, and Chrysler. "Attendance at the company holiday party isn’t optional. Your absence will be noticed, most likely by your boss and other higher ups." Plan on staying at least an hour.
DON’T dress inappropriately. That means being neat, not sloppily casual. It also means not wearing your sexiest outfit -- even if you are a knockout in it. "Women often make the mistake of thinking that the holiday party is the time to show off those new curves they got from working out all year. Slinky sexy attire is not a good choice at an office function, even if the occasion is festive," warns Ramsey.
True, this is a party, and you can wear those open-toed high heels and extra jewelry, if you want. But don’t push the taste envelope. "Look at yourself in the mirror before you leave your house. If you are not 100% confident that you are dressed appropriately for a business holiday party, change!" says corporate etiquette expert Peggy M. Parks, president of the Parks Image Group.
DO prepare your partner or date. If you’re attending the party with your spouse or significant other, talk to him or her in advance about appropriate dress and topics of conversation. "Remember, his or her behavior will reflect on you. And if your spouse is supposed to attend, make sure he or she does," Pachter says.
DO go with a positive attitude. "Remember that office parties are opportunities to enhance relationships with colleagues," says Ramsey. "Occasionally people are self-conscious around their coworkers and fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing. In that case, it is easy to give the impression that they are unfriendly or aloof." If that sounds like you, take this advice: Plan ahead on some conversation starters so you’ll feel comfortable.
DO stay sober. Sound like a no-brainer? Unfortunately, if alcohol is flowing freely, it can be easy to get into the spirit by, well, getting into the spirits. "A bank manager swears that he got promoted because his boss got drunk and made such outrageous comments at the party that she was fired," notes Pachter, author of New Rules@Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead.
Pachter advises following this self protection strategy: Set a limit for yourself before you go to the party. "It is much easier to control your alcohol intake that way. Or, order a drink you don’t like, and sip it slowly all night," she says.
DO be aware of cultural and ethnic differences. Ramsey points out it’s important to understand the traditions of people from other cultures in the workplace and at functions outside the office. "Some cultures are more outgoing, and others tend to be more reserved. So it’s important to be aware of the way people from other cultures meet and greet and what topics they are comfortable discussing," she says. And if you are one of the office party planners, keep cultural differences in mind when you decide on appropriate foods to serve.
DO mingle. "You don’t need to spend a lot of time with each person. But try to relax, be friendly and talk to everyone," says Parks. "It will show people that you are a team player and that you care about being with your co-workers."
Talk to people you don’t know. "Go up to people, say hello, introduce yourself, shake hands," Pachter advises. "And don’t just talk business. Prepare your conversation ahead of time by being up-to-date on current events and happenings in your community. Read the newspaper, news magazines, company publications, and your professional journals."
DON’T get super-friendly with the boss. Hitting your boss up for a raise at an office party is a fairly common faux pas, says Ramsey. "Some people make the mistake of thinking that while everyone is in a good mood, the time is right for discussing salary," she notes. It’s not. And if you normally don’t call the company president by his or her first name, the office party is not the place to start.
DO pay attention to your body language. Sure, the party may be so dull you’d rather be watching paint dry, but don’t let others see how bored you are. "That’s bad manners," warns Pachter. "Don’t frown, slouch, or cross your arms. And try not to yawn."
DON’T hog the buffet table. Of course, it’s great that your office party has good food, but it is bad form to act as if the free yummies are the main reason you came. "If you are that hungry, have a bite to eat before the party," Ramsey says.
DO be friendly and interact with your boss’ spouse. If you make a good impression, they’ll probably tell your boss. "But don’t divulge any personal things you know about your co-workers or boss to their spouses," notes Parks.
Pachter advises pre-party preparation so that you’re ready to have a meaningful conversation with your superior’s significant other. "Do a little research before the party so you know something about the spouse or partner," she says. "If you do, you’ll both feel more comfortable."
DO remember what your mom taught you -- good manners are important. That means remembering to say "thank you" to the party organizer as you leave your office festivities, if possible. You should also send the organizer a thank you note.