Holiday Office Party Etiquette (or how not to go down in flames!)

Flickr/Daniel Stockman

The time for year-end holiday celebrations has arrived.

Having heard of (and witnessed) a number of employee flameouts at past festivities, I thought this would be a good time to restate the fundamentals of office party etiquette. 

The company holiday party is a time to celebrate, but it’s also a business function and it pays to keep that in mind. Here are a few tips for making sure that this year’s holiday party brings only good things your way.

  1. Drink alcohol in moderation (or not at all if you’re driving).

Alcohol is the great “loosener:” it loosens inhibitions, tongues, that top button on your blouse—you’d be amazed at the trouble a little alcohol can cause. And while your co-workers may be your friends, they’re still co-workers and may never have seen you without those inhibitions. Not to mention the fact that your boss will likely get a glimpse of a whole new you, if you have a few too many.

  1. Show up and stick around

If you plan on doing a drive-by (i.e. arrive about an hour late, do the rounds making sure to talk to the boss and a few key colleagues, and then slip out quietly), think again. People notice those who just drop in. Some of them even take notes. You won’t win points by pretending to participate, so show up and stick around for a reasonable amount of time. If you are in management, especially senior management, you’ll want to arrive on time and be there to close the party.

  1. Nail the dress code

Find out in advance whether the party is formal, casual, party glitter-mania, costume, etc. and dress accordingly. Showing up among the black ties with reindeer antlers and a Rudolph sweater your grandmother knitted, won’t win a lot of points and will likely make you drink too much! Regardless of dress code, there are a couple of safe bets when it comes to company party attire: don’t reveal too much skin (exceptions can be made for beach parties!), and don’t show up excessively under or overdressed.

  1. Put the office romance on hold

The office party is not the place to be caught canoodling and (unlike Vegas), what happens at the office party does not stay at the office party. Unless you want to be the water cooler headline for the next few weeks or you feel your boss would be delighted to watch you cozying up to a co-worker, don’t make the office party your romantic playground.

  1. Stick to the guest list

Avoid bringing uninvited guests to the office holiday party. If you’re not sure whether a date, your spouse or your children are included in the invitation, ask for clarification. A lot of effort typically goes into planning the year-end holiday celebration and an influx of uninvited guests can throw those preparations into disarray. An unintended mix of guests can also make people generally uncomfortable.

  1. Be a jolly secret Santa

If part of your holiday celebration involves exchanging gifts or playing “secret Santa”, remember to leave workplace frustrations and hidden agendas at home. This is not the time to make a point or get in a dig by giving, for example, an alarm clock to the co-worker who is frequently late, or edible underwear to the extremely shy clerk who refused to have coffee with you. Save the lewd, passive aggressive and other gag gifts, intended to embarrass or humiliate, for a less potentially damaging venue. 

  1. Wrap up the year with an attitude of gratitude

The objective of the holiday party is celebration. It’s an opportunity for co-workers to get together and share the spirit of the season. It’s an opportunity for employers to provide a little extra recognition and cheer as another year comes to close. Save reprimands, complaints and grievances for another time and place. Enjoy the party!


From everyone here at TribeHR and NetSuite, have a safe and joyous holiday season.

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