Theres a reason a lot of workers dread holiday parties and its because “fun” and “making sure you can continue to pay your bills” rarely mix in a copasetic manner.
Can you drink? Must you wear a tie? What if you say the wrong thing? What if your manager says you should loosen up but doesnt really mean it? What if you make a bad joke? Do you have to be nice to the vice president that always calls you “Bob” when your name is “Brian”?
To some, it feels like walking a tightrope and its reason enough to just want to stay home.
But you cant. Or it is at least considered ill-advised by HR professionals and those people who hired you and are footing the bill for the party.
Youre going to have to show up, and youll have to clean up your mess if you blow it. But eWEEK strives to make this a lot less daunting with by leading you through a guided tour of the things you should not do.
1. Blow It Off
We hate to put it to you this way, but consider your offices holiday party part of your job. No matter what your personal feelings are regarding the mixing of work and play, or how dull the music, the people upstairs really did throw it with the best of intentions, so think of it like a business dinner and let them know if you are arriving late or leaving early.
And show up ready to work… just a little less hard.
“Its an employer-sponsored party, so treat it like a business function first and a party second. Make sure you attend. People tend not to feel any obligation to attend, but you should. Show up even if you dont stay the whole time,” Nancy Halverson, vice president of talent development at Fort Lauderdale, Fla. recruiting and staffing firm Spherion, told eWEEK.
2. Not Know Who You Are Talking To
If there is any other salient reason that workers tend to have mixed feelings toward office holiday parties, its that guy. You know, the one from accounting and The Story That Will Never Die about the time he hit on a woman at the party that turned out to be the CEOs wife of 30 years.
It gets whispered in the corridors whenever he passes and carried on to new recruits as they join the company. Even the overnight maintenance guy knows about the look that crossed his face when she clarified who she was, and while everyone is sure its an unrelated occurrence, that guy in accounting hasnt been promoted in the five years since.
Furthermore, dont forget to prep your guest that she or he is about join a conversation with the Chairman of the Board. Theyll thank you for the warning.
“Make sure your prep your spouse or guest on the intricacies of your workplace. They should know who your supervisors and important people are and they should be in the loop on some company gossip so they dont make a totally innocent, but very damaging, mistake,” said Halverson.
3. Get Plastered and Tell Your Boss How You Really, Really Feel
Remember that scene in Bridget Joness Diary in which she has an office party flashback where she is crooning off-key at the top of her lungs, a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other, and, if we remember correctly, she has some tassels on her head?
Well, between Bridget-level holiday party embarrassment and where you would like to be, there are endless ways that drinking too much of that free spiked punch can make you regret more than your hangover the next day.
Overdrinking at parties is often caused by anxiety, but just makes matters worse. So do everything in your power to keep yourself at a two-drink maximum.
Beyond that, eating before you arrive, ordering a seltzer with lime if you dont want others to know youve cut yourself off, and not saying anything you wouldnt say to your boss if you passed him or her in the hall are smart limitations to set. This also includes asking for a raise, if they can hire your friends son, putting someone on the spot about the health of the company or complaining about the lack of lumbar support in cubicle desk chairs.
4. Forget to Loosen Up
Ha, right! you think. Loosen up, you must be joking.
But seriously, this is the best time to show those people you work with that you are not just a personality-less IT guy who resets passwords and lectures about network security.
Youre a fun guy! You have hobbies. You like sports and history. You might even have gone to the same school as someone you work with. This is the time to find out. Nobody regrets finding out their co-workers are actually multi-faceted human beings.
Furthermore, dont be afraid to order a drink if they are provided. According to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., 70 percent of human resources professionals say drinking is acceptable at their organizations holiday parties.
If nothing else, it might even make you look like youre having a good time.
5. Wear Your Torn-Up Circa-1987 Guns N Roses Live T-Shirt
No matter how many times you company tells you that the office holiday party is a great time to “relax” and “just have fun,” odds are pretty much overwhelming they dont mean for you to wear the clothes you probably have the most fun in, be it skimpy club gear, the jeans you last painted your house in or the “1-0-1-0” t-shirt.
Not only do you make yourself appear unprofessional, its unnerving for people to see extra skin on their boss or work buddy, and its an image not quickly forgotten when you are at your next budget meeting, begging for more spare change to properly fund the next upgrade.
Unless the invitation specifically says “dress down” or “jeans okay,” dont wear anything you wouldnt wear to work on a casual Friday.
6. Bring Uninvited Guests
No matter how precious, adorable and brilliant you find your shrieking child who is currently tearing the bar napkins into a pile of shreds for the landing of the rocket he or she has build from plastic forks, odds are good that a lot of your co-workers dont share your pride.
In addition, they may resent you for bringing along your wee one when they had the wherewithal to hire a babysitter. Its a no-win situation, and could have been avoided with a quick call to the partys organizers to check if family members or friends were allowed as guest.
“Its becoming less and less common to have family members at parties due to cost reduction. So make sure you pay attention to the invite. If you do bring guests, make sure they are appropriate for the environment and if youre in doubt, ask your supervisor,” said Halverson.
In addition, yes, you do need to clean up that pile of forks when your child tires of them and moves onto yanking the pant legs of all of the holiday revelers, looking for you.
7. Spend the Whole Night Only Talking to Your Office Buddies
As tempting as it may be to stay inside your comfort zone, that being all the people you speak to every day, your company party may be the only time you have all year for a real, casual face-to-face chat with the CEO.
Take advantage of this and get to know some new people.
“Make sure the people who should, know that you are there. Say hello to your boss and bosses first and stretch yourself a bit, introduce yourself to people you dont know,” Halverson said.
“Even if its just talking to a few people, as long as youre not just talking to the same people you always do, youre doing great.”
8. Bore People with Shop Talk
So you sidle up to the vice president you have always wanted to talk to and you introduce yourself and then, well, what do you say? Heres a hint: he or she probably is not hoping for an update on the project your team is in the thick of. Its not that the VP doesnt care about the progress, its just that they talk business all day, every day and a little break from shop talk is always welcome.
What type of conversation rarely falls flat?
“People almost always like to talk about themselves, whether you may ask them how they got interested in IT or what they did prior to coming to the company,” Halverson said.
“You can keep it work-related, but not specific to the current work you are doing. Peoples comfort zone is almost always talking about themselves and odds are, youll find you have at least one thing in common.”
9. Assume People Wont Remember Your Foot-in-Mouth
So, you stepped in it. You asked about one or perhaps all of the taboo subjects when you were speaking to the guy who is next in line for CEO—be it a raise, a favor, a criticism or you slipped and said something derogatory about your manager. Now you must fix it.
“Apologize for the misstep. Tell your boss what happened before they hear it through the grapevine. Get out in front of the problem. Dont think it will go away; if anything it will circle and cycle and only get worse,” said Halverson.
The mistake might not matter as much as how you handle what comes after it, experts say. So deal with it and move on.
10. Forget Your Manners
Last but not least, dont forget your ps and qs. If the invitation requires a RSVP, respond either way; if the office party is being hosted at your bosss house, bring a gift; and even if the party is in a grand ballroom, thank your hosts or boss before you leave.
Better even, dont stay until last call. If that party ends at 9 p.m., you dont want to be remembered as the last guy to get another round before your crew was not-so-gently asked to leave. No matter how good the company, its just not that kind of party.
Like your mother always told you: a little manners go a long way.