How to Survive the Office Holiday Party
Please, no more lampshades.The days of office parties where coworkers let down their hair, got roaring drunk, and ended up wearing lampshades are out of style. Fortunately for everyone, the office party has matured, by and large, into a more relaxed event where coworkers can socialize and get to know a little about each other without thinking about deadlines—or getting hit on by Bob from marketing.
Plan early.If you’re in charge of scheduling the office party, start planning as soon as possible. Send invitations or let coworkers know the date, time and location at least one month in advance so they can plan accordingly. Everyone’s date book fills up quickly during the holiday season. Also be sure to let them know if the invitation includes spouses, significant others and family members.
Spouses.Often, spouses and significant others are invited to holiday parties, too. If you are bringing an invited plus one, make sure they feel included and comfortable. Let them know what to wear, and give them a heads up on the names of bosses and colleagues who are likely to be there. At the party, don't ditch them. Introduce them to your important workplace family and include them in conversations.
You’re going to have to talk to someone.If the thought of party small talk makes you sweat, don't panic. People who blather on are usually the ones who embarrass themselves—not the quiet types. Simply think before you speak. Have a list of potential topics in mind that will help you get a conversation going or consult a popular magazine or two for ideas. Try to avoid yes or no questions. "What are your plans for the holidays?" will generate a more detailed response than "Are you traveling for the holidays?" And remember, the wallflower near the buffet is probably looking for a conversation just as much as you are.
Was photocopying your butt ever a good idea?People who drink too much at office parties take the risk of seriously harming their professional reputations and careers. The chemistry you had and acted on with Jennifer at the holiday party may seem less than romantic in the clear, sober office environment. And management may think twice about trusting you with their biggest client after your drunken Karaoke rendition of “Be My Baby.” The safest way to avoid any embarrassing situations is to stay in control and limit your drinking.
Be thankful.Make it a priority to thank the host of your holiday office party, as well as any of the people who worked to plan the event. No festive occasion comes off without hard work, and it’s a task that often gets overlooked. A verbal thank you is sufficient, an email acceptable, but a hand-written note makes you stand out—and conveys a deeper level of warmth and sincerity.
- Keep your look consistent for the workplace party. If you generally dress in a classic style, choose something classy and traditional for your party look (note the dress and accessories on the left of the image as opposed to the glam-girl look on the right). For men, if you’re in the C-suite and always wear a suit, a nod to the holiday with a red tie is sufficient: no need to wear the holiday-lights necktie that your kids gave you seven years ago. In a nutshell: err on the side of elegance.
- Gift exchanges often happen and office parties. Keep the gifts thoughtful, delicious, or simple (think boxed note cards, chocolates, or a gift certificate to the coffee shop next door). This is not the place to give Grinch boxer shorts or exploding-snakes-in-a-can.
- Even if you love the receptionist’s gingerbread cookies and the CFO’s Swedish meatballs, don’t load up your plate. When there is a buffet, yes, you’re supposed to eat and enjoy but don’t make it look like it might be your last meal. And if you especially love those cookies, go back for a second and let your co-worker know how much you enjoy them.
- Be social. Not all of us are comfortable mixing and mingling, but do make an effort to chat with two or three colleagues who you don’t normally associate with. The conversation can be as simple as, “What are you doing for the holidays?” or “You have a daughter, right? How old is she now?” This is a great opportunity to build relationships in a more casual setting.
- You know we have to say it: Don’t drink too much at the office party. It’s probably, by far, the most damaging thing you can do to your brand. If you’re seen as a confident and in control leader – well, that’s blown out of the water after a third martini. If you’re seen as a thoughtful-behind-the-scenes doer, you may do or say something that may change someone’s opinion of you for good. Set a limit (consider none or one). Really, it’s up to you, but keep in mind: you can go out for a social beverage with friends afterward.