As the festive season approaches, so does a potentially perilous annual event – the office Christmas party. For some, it’s a chance to let your hair down with your colleagues and talk about something other than work; for others, it’s an ordeal more excruciating than dental surgery. Do you really have to make idle chit-chat with your fellow office drones, watch them get drunk and witness their inevitable embarrassing behaviour – and then have to look them in the eye on Monday morning? Bah, humbug!
Whatever you feel about getting into the holiday spirit, there are some definite dos and don’ts when it comes to the office Christmas party. Here are some tips to help you navigate the dangerous festive waters.
Even though guzzling the free booze may seem like a good idea at the time – it’s not. You’re bound to say or do something you shouldn’t and will have to face the consequences afterwards. Making sure that you stay sober and upright will ensure you’re not the one everyone’s whispering about on Monday morning around the water cooler.
Workplace relations solicitor Amelia Peters is all too familiar with the consequences of too much booze at these functions. ‘In my experience, alcohol is the biggest risk factor for bad behaviour at these types of events. Most people would never even contemplate harassing or hassling a colleague until they get some alcohol on board and their judgment goes out the window,’ says Peters.
She also offers this caution: ‘We remind employees that their behaviour at these events is still considered to be on work time, that is, they’re still “at work” even during social functions that take place after hours. Employees are often unaware of this or forget this.’
Pace your drinking and make sure you eat something beforehand or during the party so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water, juice or soft drinks. As tempting as it may be and as easy as it is to do, getting drunk could cost you your credibility, reputation and, in the most extreme cases, your career. If you do end up making a fool of yourself, here's what to do.
Despite the convivial surroundings and a dose of Dutch courage, the Christmas party is not your opportunity to pounce on the office hunk or tell your secret crush what you’d like to do to them behind closed doors. You risk regret, rejection, humiliation, or worse – just ask ex-David Jones CEO Mark McInnes, who made unwanted sexual advances on publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk at an office Christmas party, and was slapped with a career-destroying sexual harassment lawsuit.
Be careful – very careful – about taking your flirting too far. Just because you’re feeling lascivious doesn’t mean others are sharing your mood – and even if they are, this is not the time or place for drunken hook-ups, unless you don’t mind being the subject of salacious post-party office gossip.
Even though the work Christmas party is a social affair, you're still with your colleagues and your boss and it’s simply not appropriate to wear anything too revealing. Save your sexy clothes for when you’re out clubbing with your friends – and keep them far away from the office party. A good rule of thumb is to dress up what you would normally wear to work. Feel free to add some festive flair in the form of colourful heels or a fun tie, but keep it profesh. Multiple studies have shown that dressing for success can actually make you more successful, so it's important to look the part even when you're in party mode.
We all know that having friends at work makes us happier and more productive. But that doesn't mean you should just hang out with your buddies. The office Christmas party is a great chance to talk to people you otherwise wouldn’t have much contact with, like the shy girl from the corner cubicle, as well as the CEO and other senior staff. Try to mingle and chat with everyone, including partners and spouses. This is a fantastic networking opportunity, so use it wisely without being an obvious schmoozer. Use this chance to make yourself known – but not for all the wrong reasons.
The Christmas party is just that – a party. That means it’s a social event, and not the place to get into the minutiae of your team's latest project. Leave your professional baggage at the door and try to relax and have a good time. Show your colleagues that you’re more than just an office bore and you really do have a personality buried somewhere beneath that power suit. Also, even if you end up getting chummier with your boss than usual, this is most definitely not the time to ask your boss for that promotion or pay rise. Such discussions are for office hours only.
If possible, tee up with a party buddy who will watch out for you while you watch out for them. You can keep an eye on each other and tell one another if it’s time to bundle yourself into a cab.
Even though this is your chance to relax with colleagues, don’t get too loose with your language or behaviour. Avoid off-colour jokes and swearing (dropping the f-bomb in front of your boss is not the best look), and maintain your manners.
While Christmas is all about indulgence and it’s a good idea to eat if you’re drinking alcohol, making a beeline for the food table and stuffing your face before you even grunt hello to your colleagues is never a good look. It's hard enough to keep the kilos off in a sedentary job - save yourself the embarrassment of being labelled the office pig.
It is possible to have fun at the office Christmas party while keeping your dignity and remaining professional. Allow yourself to let your hair down, get into the holiday spirit and talk about something other than work, and get to know your colleagues in a more relaxed context. Just make sure that you maintain certain standards of behaviour and you should be able to eat, drink and be merry.