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Office Party Etiquette Do’s and Please Don’ts

December 8, 2009

December is the month when careers can be made or broken.  No matter the size of the company, there is always an effort made to bring coworkers together for the infamous Office Holiday Party, that long-standing source of career disasters too numerous to count. Some people look forward to the chance to mix and mingle outside the confines of business—and others would rather have a few fingernails extracted than have to spend precious after-work time with bosses and co-workers.

There are certain rules of behavior to follow at the office party if you want to have an office to go to when the party is over. These potential protocol emergencies have prompted us to release a list of top ten Do’s and Don’ts for the office Christmas functions you will be invited to this year.

We wish we could do some Navy seal-type missions and drop in on your office to rescue you from disaster—but we can’t. So we created this list. Ignore it at your own peril! 


1. Do attend. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to engage with each other in a less structured and less stressful environment.  Use this opportunity to build relationships, whether the party is for your office, your spouse’s (should you be invited) or a client’s office.

2. Do make sure you enjoy yourself, but conduct yourself professionally at all times. Office parties are intended as social events to reward employees and raise morale; they remain strictly business events and your colleagues will have long memories! But though it is a business event, don’t spend all evening talking business—you’ll end up with a reputation as the office bore.

3. Don’t use the office party as an excuse to blow off steam, serve a log of complaints or compare the boss to Santa because he only works one day per year!

4. Don’t slide into your favorite nightclub outfit for the event—and do ask whether the dress is formal or casual. Conservative party clothes are a good choice—nothing too revealing. The best thing to show off is your style and good taste.

5. Do find out who else has been invited. If you assume that it is just your department or your work team, you may not be prepared to interact with everyone else. Any sort of mixing and mingling event requires advance preparation. Knowing who will be there and having an idea what to talk about is critical to a successful venture.

6. Do stay long enough to speak to everyone there—assuming there is not a cast of thousands. With a large crowd, interact with as many people as possible, especially key people like your boss. You need to remain at the event for at least an hour or you will give the impression that your appearance was merely obligatory.  Leave before the party time has elapsed. (If your invitation was from 5-7, don’t stay one minute past 7. You don’t want to be thought of as part of the clean-up crew unless that is the next job you want to have.)

7. Don’t eat too much. Whether the event is a reception with light hors d’oeuvres or a full buffet, keep moderation in mind. You are not there for the food; you are there for the fellowship. The person who goes through the line first and takes all the food will not be remembered fondly or invited back. 

8. Don’t drink too much. Alcohol and business rarely mix well, so limit how much you consume. It shouldn’t even be necessary to discuss the consequences if you fail to abide by this one.

9. Do be gracious and thank co-workers and team members for their help and hard work during the past year. And don’t even think about gossiping about others.

10. Do be tolerant and respectful of those who don’t celebrate Christmas—pick a more appropriate time for a religious or philosophical debate.

The holiday party is not the time to let down your hair or throw caution to the wind. What you say and do on Saturday night will live on for a long time in the minds of your associates. If your behavior is inappropriate, your career may be shorter than everyone else’s memory. If you conduct yourself with charm and savvy, your rise up the ladder of success could pick up momentum.

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