'Tis the season for office holiday parties. Therefore, 'tis the season for professional faux pas. From getting drunk and saying nasty things about the boss, to getting drunk and making a pass at the boss, office holiday parties can be fraught with peril. But what can you do to make sure you are remembered for your professional polish instead of pounding punch? Having an office holiday party strategy in advance can actually help you advance your career, or at least help you to avoid being the star of the gossip-grapevine the next day back at work.
Festive Attire ~ At this point, I think we have seen it all at the holiday party, people who wear their jeans and a ratty t-shirt and those who really go all out. But what is the appropriate attire? Of course, it depends on your office. But you can rest assured that those ties that light up and sing, as well as those dresses cut down to there, should be saved for personal parties. Generally, men are safe with what they wear to the office, just cleaned up a bit. For women, we have so many more choices. Opt for dressier fabrics and use your accessories to express your festive side. Remember, your outfit should say "polished professional," not "party animal!"
Talk the Talk ~ The holiday party is no time for shop-talk. If you need to review the Jones file, set up a meeting for next week. Instead be sure to have a few topics of conversation prepared in advance. Have an answer to "what's new?" And be aware of some lighter current event topics. Still not sure? At least read the front page of each newspaper section before going to the event.
Going Solo ~ Even if you have been invited to the holiday party with a guest, take a long and loving look at the person you were planning to bring. If that person is truly introverted and hates crowd, you might be better going alone. It is no fun to baby-sit a date while juggling colleagues and clients.
Your Grand Entrance ~ Timing for these professional parties is important. Most of the big-wigs tend to arrive early and leave early. You too should plan to be on time and leave before things get too messy!
Face-Time ~ This is your chance to have a quick conversation with the power-brokers. Do your research, find out what their background is, what they are interested in, and have some light conversation ready so that rather than having a meeting at the office, you can have a relaxed conversation at the holiday party. Holiday parties are a great time to make connections and build relationships.
Two Drink Maximum ~ Now, I am certainly not your mother. And if you like to drink, that is perfectly fine with me. While you are at the office holiday party, please keep the alcohol intake to a minimum. No-one's professional demeanor ever improved with the consumption of alcohol. Be sure to eat something before you start drinking. And after one or two, skip to the soft drinks. Getting drunk should be saved for when you are with friends and those you trust!
Graceful Exits ~ Be sure to avoid the three "B"s when leaving conversations. You never want to say you are going to the bathroom, the bar, or to speak with someone better. The way we exit conversations is by looking the person in the eye and saying something like "I am so glad we had this chance to talk," or "I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening."
Gotta Go ~ There are some subtle signals that it is time to leave. If you see one of more of these, it is definitely time to escape: The music gets really loud and the lights are really low, one or more people begin to remove necessary clothing, others are kissing in the corners, someone drunk is talking into a microphone, or more than 1/3 of the guest have already left.
Damage Control ~ And what if you failed to heed my cautionary guidelines? See what the reaction is the next day at work. If you are the star of the office soap opera, if co-workers will not look you in the eye, if your boss needs to speak with you about your behavior… You should consider updating your resume. Office gossip tends to linger. Get out while you still have what is left of your dignity.
For most of us, having a happy holiday means still having a job. If you want to really celebrate, host a gathering with friends and family. Be sure to have an appropriate boundary between your professional and your personal life. Better to be the one driving the intoxicated boss home than the other way around!
We here at Mannersmith (Jodi, Marianne, Winston and all of the Mannersmith staff) wish you and yours all the best this holiday season.