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Holiday Corporate Party No-No's: a survival guide

Don't try this look!
Don't try this look!

I recall my first corporate office party; although it was less a formal gathering and more our division letting loose after a long conference in Pittsburgh, P.A. The professional education and group meetings were mind-numbing; come 5:30 pm., practically everyone under 70 was ready for a drink. And Pittsburgh has a great party scene to accommodate that. Off we went in droves: men with loosened collars swirling vodka tonics; women sporting clingy dresses and huge '80s hair. Who knew what fun marketing professionals were?! Well, too fun apparently: after copious booze, gossip, dancing, and strip-billiards (you can figure that game out for yourselves) the lot of us, over 100 people, were no-shows for the second convention day. We were also put on probation and fodder for humiliating conversation that followed us until the days we quit...this included my supervisor, a terrible billiards player.

Sure, the holidays are a time to be thankful...but if you want to be thankful you still have a job, you may want to avoid the excess celebrations and poor etiquette that demarcate most holiday office parties. Industry surveys dictate that over 15% of those corporations hosting parties noted crude and inappropriate employee behavior, which later damaged personal image, colleague relations, and professional growth. All this from brandy and five inch heels? Very much so.

The professional environ itself is not without its abundant flaws, including unprofessional gossip, envy, and manipulation. Therefore one must be alert to the seemingly harmless behaviors that become a professional loaded gun and modify them, while still having the sort of productive fun meant in such situations as the office party, be it at the firm, the club, or the boss' abode.

1. Excessive Drinking. This one's obvious, and yet statistically the most common blunder that the employee pool (my former supervisor included) perpetrates. Once, organizations proffered a loaded bar for your consumption; now, don't be surprised when you're handed tickets to a two-drink maximum. And though, for most two drinks is an after-meal routine, others, particularly slender individuals may yet get tipsy from the allotment. I certainly do. Regardless, adhere to some common-sense tips when drinking, such as;

  • Limit consumption to a two-drink maximum, which is the socially acceptable norm.

  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach; instead enjoy some hors d'oeuvres or a decent meal with your beverage.

  • Don't mix wine with hard liquor

  • Match each alcoholic drink with another 8 oz. glass of water to stay hydrated, especially in places well above sea level.

2. Excessive Eating. Yes, even indulging too avidly in the savory fare laid before you is a faux-pas. The goal of any corporate party is to reward employees for a year of hard work, and naturally, you are to be fed, but recall that discussion takes center stage at any event. Be considerate of others by picking sparingly from buffets, keeping hands grease-free, and avoiding a full mouth, because let's face it, a wad of masticated food in plain sight is just nasty. Other tips include:

  • Don't negotiate a crowd with handfuls of hors d'oeuvres. A spill is practically inevitable.

  • Never dip any item more than once in sauces or garnishes. Take a personal spoonful of the dip instead and munch discreetly.

  • Do not leave trash in your wake, but discard all items as you are able.

3. Excessive Talking. Many employees deem the office party a perfect time to chat up the boss, pitching one's brilliance, wit, and promotional gusto. Wrong. While mingling is an important skill to practice at such events, pay attention to the basis of your conversation. Now is not the time to self-promote, preoccupy your superiors, nor debate hot topics that may offend others. Simple tact dictates you greet your colleagues, discuss enjoyable fare like family and culture, and remain comfortably approachable. Certainly, if the boss addresses work issues you may contribute, but in a sympathetic and team-player fashion, perhaps offering a positive, helpful insight.

  • Avoid looking overanxious to contribute in group discussions, talk over others, or appear bored by topics that aren't your forte.

  • Don't stay in the same group all night. Circulate about and converse to others approximately 5 to 10 minutes apiece.

  • Thank hosts and those who put in extra effort to organize the gathering.

4. Excessive Complaining. Sure, we all share certain gripes with our office mates, but prudence is essential in public settings. Executives do not wish to have their policies criticized, and complaining in general is deemed a less-than-stellar professional trait with which you don't want to be associated. Holidays and parties in general are meant to evoke a cheerful mood, and whining is a buzz kill. Also, conversations are easily overheard by tangent groups, wherein certain gossip-worthy talk will collect inaccuracies as it's passed along.

  • Keep conversations complimentary, natural and easy.

  • Build off of mutually pleasant topics the entire group can add upon.

  • Switch topics or politely excuse yourself if the talk takes a sour turn.

5. Excessive Absence. No matter what your status in the company, a late arrival is never couth. Timeliness is also respectfulness, demonstrating you honor the punctuality of others and the party itself. Appearing within the first 30 minutes of an event's commencement is most appropriate, as is staying until thirty minutes from its conclusion. Senior executives should stay as long as possible, since attendance at company parties is a quietly expected, mandatory event.

  • Be mindful of traffic and other impediments when planning to leave the house in attendance. Evening events can also involve wrestling high-traffic commutes.
  • Avoid too many forays to the bathroom, texting, or taking personal calls.

  • Do not disappear with a colleague for extended time—you'll end up highlighting the office rumor-mill.

6. Excessive Attire. Sure, Hollywood may consider sequined dresses, mass cleavage, and monochrome suits all the rage. Here's a tip: don't go there. This isn't the red carpet, nor your opportunity to show off that gym-fetish body. If anything, excessive dress connotes a lack of self-esteem or worse, self-respect. Recall this is still a professional environment, and dress codes apply. Stick to dresses that hover about the knee, and provide adequate coverage across the chest for the ladies; men, include a tie and go easy on the cologne. Especially if you're a knockout in any garb, jealousies will run amok, so don't give people additional ammo to use against you—it'll just hurt your career in the end.

  • Glitz may be in, but save the glitter for focus points like shimmery shoes or a fabu necklace, but don't load it all on together or you'll look like a disco ball.

  • Understand the connotations of 'casually formal': this entails traditional cocktail wear like a suit or a semi-formal dress. If you overdo the formality, you'll look costume-ish; dress down and you'll look slovenly. Study up on dress codes and piece together befitting items in your closet.

Holiday parties can make for some interesting memories; follow the preceding guide and you'll evoke the most apropos image before those you aim to impress. And we'll be watching.


Dare to post your holiday business hilarities of parties past? For every story, the ABNE will donate $10 to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation! Just post below and share away!


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