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Home  > Article

Office Party Survival Guide

By Nancy R. Mitchell, The Etiquette Advocate

Look out! Here comes the tidal wave of work-related holiday festivities.

Companies, offices, project teams and informal groups of co-workers will soon begin to gather for end-of-the-year parties that range from bagels and coffee in the conference room to happy hour at a local pub, a reception for employees and families at the boss's house, or dinner and dancing in the grand foyer of a local museum.

But whoever put the word "party" into the term "company party" had a wry sense of humor. It's a word that has led to the downfall of many, as a result of inappropriate behavior, conversation or attire. The most important thing to remember when gathering with colleagues, co-workers and supervisors for holiday festivities is: It's not a party. It's work.

These deceptively festive events are an extension of your work day, and when you attend you're on duty, albeit in a slightly different capacity. So, to all who approach these holiday events, I offer some rules of the road that I hope will help you to steer clear of boorish behavior, wardrobe malfunctions, or too much holiday cheer.

The Pleasure of Your Company

Don't skip the company holiday gathering. You may not be a happy camper when it comes to company policies and current events, but attendance will be taken, if not literally then figuratively, and you want to be counted. By planning a holiday function, your employer is probably making a sincere effort to thank employees for their hard work throughout the year. Don't let past hostilities, dissatisfaction or other personal issues spoil the occasion for you or for others. Participate.

Respond to the invitation, and respond in a timely fashion. It is extremely rude to wait until the last minute to let the planners know if you will attend, and doubly rude if you are holding out to see if you get a better offer. Check carefully to see how the invitation is addressed. If it is addressed to you and a guest, two people are invited.  If it is addressed to you only, don't ask if you may bring a date, spouse, friend or family member.

Fashion Foibles

When it's time to choose what to wear to a work-related holiday gathering, use the same standards or criteria that you use when selecting attire to wear to work. Think of the occasion as a business meeting on steroids. You may be dressing up to a higher, more formal or festive level for the gathering, but remember that you are dressing for business.

When making wardrobe choices, consider:

1. The occasion, environment, industry, schedule and venue

2. Your established role in the organization

3. The overall (and lasting!) impression that you want to make

Dress like a professional all day, every day, because people treat you differently when you dress down or provocatively. Not only is there the possibility that others won't view you as a focused and serious professional, but business relationships can become far too casual when you show up for a holiday gathering dressed for naughty instead of nice.

Ladies, if you want to debut that frock that has been hanging in your closet, waiting for a special occasion, just be sure that it doesn't show too much (of anything!), or you will be the #1 topic of conversation during the event as well as the morning after. Gentlemen, you don?t tend to make as many mistakes as women do when choosing holiday attire for work-related events, mainly because you have fewer choices. But do remember not to cross the line between your personal and professional wardrobe when making your selections. To all, if you chose inappropriate attire for the year-end event, your image will suffer far longer than the holiday season.

Eat, Drink and Be Wary

Does everyone know the two most dangerous words associated with work-related holiday merrymaking? Open Bar! When you hear those words, ignore the voice in your head that says "woo woo!" and listen instead to the one that says "whoa!" Just as you wouldn't drink to the point of being tipsy or inebriated at a working lunch or dinner, neither should you do so at a work-related party. Legions of employees have ruined a bright future by a sordid, party performance. You may need to designate not only a driver for the event, but an alter ego as well if you feel that you are likely to overindulge.

Overeating is also something that is extremely unbecoming. Because the gathering is work-related, it's not about the food. It's about building relationships, making connections, presenting yourself in a good light and being a member of a work family.

Business vs. Personal Relationships

Your clothes may change for a work-related holiday gathering, but make sure that your behavior does not. An office party is not the time to confess your attraction to a co-worker or to make otherwise inappropriate conversation. Remember that on Monday morning you have to face your boss and colleagues, and you don't want to arrive at your work site with regrets.

And, don't take a new acquaintance or someone you don't know very well as your guest to the company bash. It is not a time to discover that your new squeeze cannot hold his/her liquor or has a tendency to cry, sing, tell off-color jokes, share stories of past indiscretions, or dance on top of a table.

Enjoy the year-end festivities within reason, and you'll face a bright New Year. Happy Holidays!

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