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How to Survive the Office Holiday Party

10 suggestions for surviving the annual holiday office party

by Jonathan Lockwood Huie

It's that time of year again. Perhaps the annual holiday party your boss throws is the highlight of your year, but for many of us the annual office holiday party is an event of discomfort, an awkward time we wish we could avoid but believe we must survive and make the best of.

Whether the event is held in a lavish hotel ballroom, which is less likely in these economic times, at the office itself, or at the home of the boss or someone else, most of the challenges and opportunities remain the same.

Here are a few suggestions for surviving the annual office holiday party...

1. Make a conscious choice whether to attend or not. While there may be consequences for declining the invitation, as well as for attending, weigh the pros and cons of attending. If you do end up going, you will feel better for knowing that it was your choice to attend.

2. Remember that you can survive anything for a few hours, and even the longest party will soon be over.

3. Set a positive objective for the office party. Decide on a few people you want to talk with and what you want to talk about. Is there someone you could work with better if you had a bit of personal connection with? Is there someone you don't know yet but feel you should meet? If you can't think of a business purpose for your mingling, just fall back on hanging out with people you feel comfortable with.

4. Choose non-alcoholic drinks. This is really the number one rule for office parties. Alcohol and your job never work well together, and the combination is especially bad at a holiday office party. Remember that this isn't a "real" party where you can let your hair down. This is a job-related event at which your every word and action occurs under the eagle eye of the whole hierarchy of management as well as all your co-workers and anyone you supervise. Survive the office party, then go home and celebrate your victory with a double scotch if you must.

4a. If you have a role in planning the office holiday party or have influence with those who do, choose a non-alcoholic event. While not serving alcohol may appear contrary to the nature of a party, a company puts itself at huge legal and liability risk by serving alcohol to employees, as well as creating an environment which has the potential for encouraging embarrassing or hostile situations.

5. Be very clear who is invited to the party. Is it just for employees? Are spouses invited? Spouses and dates? Children? If you have any doubt, err on the side of bringing fewer. Don't bring your children if the party is an adult-type party to which children are grudgingly permitted. Don't bring a date to a holiday office party unless you are sure that's the intention and you are dating only one person. Do not bring a casual date to an office party, there are too many ways that can backfire.

6. Understand the dress code for the event and choose to dress on the conservative side. Again, remember that this is a professional function rather than a real party. Women should especially avoid dressing in any way that might be considered even slightly provocative.

7. Do not flirt. Management always looks down on office romances, and you certainly don't want to look completely unprofessional by having your advance either accepted or rejected under the watchful eye of the whole company.

8. If there is a gift exchange, be clear about the intended value of gifts and other rules. Follow the rules exactly and avoid joke gifts. You should be very cautions that nothing you do at an office party could possibly embarrass anyone.

9. Remember that this is a holiday party rather than a Christmas party. There are almost certainly people at the party who hold different religious beliefs.

10. Do have a really good time. Enjoy the food, in moderation. Enjoy meeting new people. Enjoy getting to know your co-workers on a more personal level.


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