Surviving the Office Holiday Party: How NOT to Lose your Job or be the Topic of Conversation Around the Office

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by Randall S. Hansen Ph.D.

Consider these holiday office party true stories:

Adam’s company decided to have its office party in a local hotel’s ballroom. As the evening progressed and more people continued enjoying the party’s open bar Adam got the crazy idea to play what he describes as human bowling. Just outside the ballroom in an adjoining hallway Adam lined up several of his co-workers as pins and then proceeded to use himself as the human bowling ball running down the hallway and crashing into his co-workers knocking most of them down as he attempted a strike. Needless to say he no longer works at that company

Susie tells the story of a pair of co-workers who decided the office party was the chance to get extra friendly with each other — out in the parking lot of the club in which their company’s office party was held. While they were steaming up the windows with their activities in the car little did they know there was a security camera monitoring the parking lot. Through a combination of people going outside to smoke and a security officer who agreed to share the video with the office manager by the time the next week rolled around everyone in their office knew about what the two of them had done that night.

So how can you avoid the fates of the people in these stories — and the literally scores of others shared with me over the years (two more stories appear at the end of the article) that I have been on radio shows and other events talking about the do’s and don’ts of holiday office parties?

This article focuses on five “how-to” tips that should just about guarantee that you safely navigate the sometimes dangerous waters of the holiday office party.

1. Attend the Party. If you see a future with the company you simply have to make an appearance at the party. You need not stay the whole time nor should you but you need to be seen. If guests are not invited and your significant other is bothered by your going alone stress the political importance of going to the event — because it is an official company function. Believe it or not someone will be making note of who did — and did not — attend the function. And before you bring a guest with you find out if guests or significant others are included because many parties are restricted to employees only.

2. Dress Appropriately. Even if the holiday party is taking place in a hot club in town it is still a company function which means you can dress in festive attire — but avoid the wearing the extremely skimpy black dress or other attire you might wearing when you go clubbing or to the bar. People love to gossip and you don’t want them talking about what you were wearing — or not wearing. In fact if you are unsure what to wear to the event ask a mentor or the office manager about appropriate attire. Always avoid items of clothing that are too revealing or too flashy.

3. Do Everything in Moderation. Yes have fun and relax and enjoy yourself at the office party — but do everything in moderation. You don’t need to consume your weight in food from the buffet line or playing drinking games with co-workers. And if you have any sort of problem with alcohol or are a light drinker take extra precautions — and perhaps don’t even drink at all. You also don’t need to corner every person at the party and chat their ears off. And regardless of your politics — unless you know the person you are talking to celebrates Christmas avoid saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone at the party. Note that they are called holiday parties not Christmas parties because people celebrate different holidays based on their religious beliefs.

4. Mingle and Network. While it might be fun and safe to hang out with your office buddies at the party you really should make the rounds and mingle with others — especially top management and out-of-town guests. Don’t bore them or talk solely about yourself (see story at the end of this article) but do chat with them and talk about your team successes if asked. Make yourself better known — but in a good way. Just remember not to talk business the entire night — and to keep personal conversations upbeat and away from the usual controversial areas of politics religion and office gossip — and avoid telling off-color jokes or stories. Under no circumstances should you say anything negative about a co-worker boss or the company (as in the other story at the end of the article).

5. Remember Your Manners. Because the party is a business function and because the bosses will be there it’s to your advantage to be on your best behavior — which means following common etiquette rules. While you shouldn’t feel paranoid do remember that you are being watched and your behavior at a holiday party can seriously impact your future with the organization. Be polite and warmly greet people — even people you don’t like. And always track down the office manager or executive who approved and planned the party and thank him or her for party. Some experts even recommend sending a little thank-you note the next day to express your appreciation for the party.

Final Thoughts on Surviving the Office Party/Social Event

The best advice for any business social event is using common sense and commonly accepted etiquette practices. The office party — whether held in the office or at a local club restaurant or hotel — is still a company event and you should always act accordingly even if others are not. People have lost their jobs and others have lost their futures by behaving poorly at a holiday party. Following the advice in this article however should help you safely enjoy the party and keep your reputation intact!

And for more tips read our Holiday Office Party Do’s and Don’ts.

Finally here are two more office party stories that you can learn from:

Gayle relates the story of the holiday party her company had at the end of a bad year for the company. Supposedly debate arose among the managers whether the firm should even hold a party since morale was low as a result of the downsizing of a number of long-time and popular employees. The managers worried that employees would see the party as a slap in the face after all the cost-cutting but they decided to go ahead with it as a token of appreciation and a way to raise morale. As you might expect most employees were mixed on the event and one in particular decided he had enough. After a few drinks (or perhaps many drinks) the employee approached a group of the top managers — including his direct boss — and proceeded to tell them all what he thought of their poor management skills in a very loud voice.

Casey’s office party story is not quite as dramatic as the first three but he tells of the time he decided to use the office party as a chance to tout his accomplishments and to network with a number of higher executives and out-of-town officers whom he normally would not get a chance to meet. He spent a good portion of the evening chatting with every boss he could find. He was confident he had made a great impression on all of them and that he had cemented his future in the organization. It wasn’t until the next day that some of his co-workers told him that he was perceived as a self-serving bore and rather than being a rising star seen as someone who is not a team player.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Founder Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web as well CEO of He is also founder of and He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author with several books chapters in books and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally Dr. Hansen is also an educator having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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