Holiday Party Dos and Don’ts

At last year’s holiday party, everyone was talking about the guy who drank a little too much spiked egg nog, wished the Hanukkah-celebrating vice president a "Merry Christmas," and demonstrated his thorough knowledge of Michael Jackson’s dance moves. Unfortunately, that guy was you. Fortunately, you’re still around to redeem yourself at this year’s celebration. While your coworkers may be taking bets on what crazy things you’ll do this year, you plan to demonstrate a little more professionalism.

Based on the prior year’s performance, you probably know some obvious things you should keep in mind at the celebration: Don’t drink too much and be conscientious of cultural differences, for instance. And, unless there’s a DJ, avoid dancing. It doesn’t hurt, however, to review other basic dos and don’ts about holiday work parties. Here are some reminders to help you get through this year’s event with your reputation intact.

Don’t be first or last. If one-third of the guests have left, it’s probably a good time to say your good-byes. Try not to be the first or last to leave, especially if the party is at your manager’s house. Watch your host for cues that the party’s winding down (clearing plates and glasses, putting food away, etc.). If you must leave early, be sure to notify your host beforehand.

Dress appropriately. Save your four-inch heels and miniskirt for a holiday celebration with friends; a work party is more formal. If you’re wearing provocative clothing, it’s not your scintillating conversation colleagues will remember about you.

Don’t openly celebrate your bonus. It’s always exciting to receive an annual monetary reward, and they are often handed out during work celebrations. But this is not the time to exclaim, "Wow, $1,000 is a lot more than I expected." You have no idea what others are receiving, and it’s generally inappropriate to discuss compensation with coworkers.

Do meet the higher-ups. At a holiday party, senior executives are typically more able to socialize with employees. You might want to ask your manager to introduce you, but be sure to develop a brief idea of what you’ll say in advance, so you don’t become tongue-tied when you shake the CEO’s hand. Be courteous and professional. Don’t bend the executive’s ear with trivia or your frustration with a new company rule—stick to general, work-related topics.

Do engage with others. Avoid shoptalk and instead make general small talk with colleagues. This is the time to get to know them a little better. You can help bring everyone’s guard down by offering to snap pictures of the festivities. It’s a good way to engage in conversation, and you can follow up with coworkers after the party by handing out photographs.

Don’t be high-maintenance. Even if you’re a vegan and everything on the buffet table is a meat or dairy-heavy dish, don’t complain. If you have special food needs, eat beforehand or tell the host or hostess well in advance. Larger company parties may offer more choices, but at smaller affairs it’s best not to demand a particular food. Ditto if you’re out in a restaurant celebrating with coworkers: taking five minutes to explain to the waitress that you want your green beans slow-cooked and oil-free is not going to make a good impression.

Don’t bring a bad date. Aside from behaving inappropriately at the party yourself, nothing is worse than an embarrassing date. If your new girlfriend is a blast to party with, terrific, but don’t bring her to your work celebration if she’s likely to dance on the tables three drinks into the evening. This also goes for shy partners who prefer to stay home. You’ll be more at ease, as will your coworkers, if you don’t have to tend to a reluctant significant other.

Do say the magic words. Don’t take this annual celebration for granted. Thank your hosts and the party organizer. They likely put a lot of work into the celebration, and good manners mean recognizing their efforts.

Work parties are more than just an end-of-the-year opportunity to let loose. They’re a chance for you to stand out not only as someone your colleagues admire professionally, but also enjoy socially. By being on your best behavior, you’ll avoid becoming the "talk of the party" and set the stage for a successful new year.

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