If you are blessed enough to be gainfully employed, you probably know that the ability to separate your personal life from your professional life is key to staying that way. Most days of the year, that’s fairly easy to do: don’t add your boss on Facebook, refrain from talking about your personal problems at work, resist the urge to flirt with your office crush, and you should be fine.
Things get a lot trickier when the annual Christmas party at your office rolls around, however. By its very nature, this event is both personal and professional as you’ll be celebrating with your superiors and colleagues. While the office party is meant to be fun, it’s also rife with potential career landmines. 20 percent of employees surveyed by blinkbox admit to kissing a colleague, 14 percent admitted to flirting with their boss, and a surprising 1 in 50 people claimed to have quit their job during the party itself. Crikey indeed.
So, how do you manage to attend the office party while enjoying AND not making a fool of yourself?
For starters, you can review the following list of frequently asked questions regarding the do’s and don’ts of holiday office parties, just so you don’t go charging in there unprepared:
1. Can’t I just skip the office party?
You can, but it wouldn’t be good for your reputation. Office parties thrown by the company are also a way of expressing gratitude for the hard work put in by its employees throughout the year. Intentionally snubbing it would be like turning down a gift.
Spending an evening with people you work with everyday (some of whom you probably aren’t too keen on) might not sound ideal, but putting in an appearance at your company’s Christmas party is always good for morale and you’d earn brownie points for being a team player.
2. What should I wear?
Everyday at the office is a chance to present yourself in the best light, but the Christmas party is your opportunity to dress up a bit more. And provided you do so appropriately, you can even introduce a bit of edgy flair into your outfit.
Of course, you shouldn’t come to the party in your office attire (unless the dress code says otherwise, but really, who does that?), but you should still look polished. Dressy sweaters or blazers and beautifully-cut, colorful, knee-length dress are all great options, but unless you work in the fashion industry, lay off the ripped jeans and the crop tops.
3. Who should I talk to?
If you work for a big company, the office party is a wonderful opportunity for you to do a bit of networking. You can (and should) still mingle with the people from your department, but don’t miss the opportunity to get to know people from other areas as well.
Company higher-ups usually attend the office party too, so you can even approach them for a few minutes’ chat during this time. If you happen to ace the conversation, you can very well leave a favorable impression with the bosses that would stand you in good stead next year.
4. What should we talk about?
Now that you’ve mustered up the courage to approach your department head, what topics are considered safe for conversation?
Whatever you do, don’t talk shop. It’s a party, so the atmosphere should be festive. Thus, this really isn’t the time to bring up your strategies for the next sales call (unless your boss asks you point blank). It should also go without saying that office gossip and any caustic asides about your immediate boss should be off-limits, as are off-color jokes and controversial topics like politics and religion.
Instead, ask about your colleagues’ families (“How old is your daughter now, Mr. Schultz?,” “Will your husband be joining us tonight, Mrs. Foreman?”, etc.), share a few funny stories that don’t involve screw-ups at work, and if all else fails, bring up the weather (“Being inside an airconditioned room is such a relief from the heat wave outside.”).
5. Can I drink at the party?
Yes! You very much can, so long as you stay within your limit.
A couple glasses of wine should be fine, and if you can handle twice that, you can have a bit more. Just don’t be that person who’s all bleary-eyed and singing loudly and off-key by the open bar at the end of the night. It may be a festive occasion, but don’t forget that your every move is still being observed by the powers that be.
Bonus tip: keep one hand free for the entire night so you can shake people’s hands with ease. Be sure it’s your dominant one so you don’t end up giving cold, wet handshakes throughout the evening.
6. Should I join the games or try out the photo booth?
Absolutely! Whoever organized your office party probably put a lot of work into it, so they’ll definitely appreciate your (sober) participation. Depending on how generous your company is, you may even end up winning a cool present if you play your cards right.
A few poses with your colleagues in front of the photo booth or event photographer should also be perfectly fine. Apart from being good souvenirs, these snaps will prove that you were in attendance at the party and that you at least looked like you were enjoying everyone’s company, which can only be good once the executives view the film rolls the following day. (Yes, you can bet that they will.)
7. How long should I stay?
As a rule, about a couple of hours should do it. That’s long enough to have a leisurely meal with your colleagues, hobnob with the higher-ups, and perhaps even participate in a couple of games.
If the dinner is a sit-down affair, try to wait until the last course is served before you prepare to depart from the scene. For more informal parties, you can leave either after the giveaways have been distributed or you can chime in when some of your colleagues begin to head home.
Okay, all these might seem like a lot of things to bear in mind for attending an event that has the word “party” in it. If nothing else, though, office holiday parties are a great opportunity to eat free food and watch a few of your colleagues bust out hitherto hidden talents on the dance floor.
So, unless you’re really sick with flu (and not just pretending), go ahead and attend. You just might end up enjoying yourself.