20 Tips for Your Workplace Holiday Non-Party

A workplace holiday party is not really a party.

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With Thanksgiving over, you’re no doubt beginning to see articles listing do’s and don’ts for the workplace holiday party.

Mostly don’ts.

Don’t wear a hula skirt or a lampshade; don’t French kiss your boss; don’t do your hip-hop routine (or worse) on the copy machine; don’t drink five appletinis and throw up in the office philodendron—the rules go on and on.

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But, you know, there’s really only one thing you need to remember. And it’s simple:

A workplace holiday party is not really a party.

In fact, it’s downright misleading to even call it a "party." It’s actually a “business event.” As in, “work.” Therefore, the way to successfully navigate your workplace holiday party is to treat it like work. Confuse it for a night out with old college buddies, your siblings, or even the members of your book club, and you have created a recipe for career disaster.

Sounds rather gloomy and unfestive, doesn’t it? Fret not. You do still get to have (some) fun. You do still get to eat and drink (some) at the company’s expense. The trick is simple: Always remember the “work” in workplace holiday party, and you’ll be OK.

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However, if you crave more detailed guidance, give a quick read to these 20 do’s and don’ts for that holiday-party-that-isn’t-really-a-party:

  1. Do act as if you’re being observed. Because you are.
  2. Don’t talk shop. Well, OK, you can a little. But not a lot, and not exclusively.
  3. Do ask about a dress code. You'll typically be aiming for a snazzier version of your usual professional look.
  4. Don’t spend the whole evening talking to the colleagues you spend all day with.
  5. Do take this chance to get to know other coworkers, and your boss, a little better.
  6. Don’t get drunk. Not even tipsy. If photos are being taken, put down your drink first.
  7. Do act pleased to be there. This shindig cost your company money, so be grateful.
  8. Don’t flirt. With anyone.
  9. Do network. It’s a great chance to schmooze with other departments, your boss’s boss, etc.
  10. Do stay at the party for at least an hour. This is part of the “grateful” thing.
  11. Don’t be the last one to leave (unless you’re helping clean up).
  12. Don’t make a pig of yourself at the food buffet. You can eat later if you’re still hungry.
  13. Do always speak and act in ways that make you appear intelligent, agreeable, and sane.
  14. Don’t talk politics or religion, tell dirty jokes, or use foul language.
  15. Do choose subjects that are cordial and uplifting—like hobbies or travel or books.
  16. Don’t pull rank (i.e. ask a subordinate to get you a plate of food, or a drink).
  17. Do hold your beverage in your left hand so you can shake hands with a dry right hand.
  18. Don’t gossip. (You won’t if you’re observing rule No. 13.)
  19. Do find out first if guests are invited. Then, choose a guest who will reflect well on you.
  20. Don’t forget to thank the party organizers.
  21. Oh, and one more thing: Do go! Not showing up at the workplace holiday party can come off as disrespectful, or lead people to conclude you’re not a team player. In fact, your absence may be more noticeable than your presence. So go, and have a good—if not riotous—time.

    Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.

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