One thing you can count on during the holidays is the obligatory office party. No matter the size of the organization, there is usually an effort to bring co-workers together for one more moment of merriment.
Some people look forward to the chance to mix and mingle outside the confines of the office. Others would rather give up the annual bonus than have to spend their precious personal time with the gang from work.
No matter where you stand on this issue, there are certain rules of behavior to follow if you want to have an office to go to when the party is over. Make sure you know the answers to these questions when party time rolls around.
1. Do I have to go?
Don’t even consider not going unless you have a justifiable conflict. The office party is part of your job. Its purpose is to bring co-workers together for a bit of camaraderie and recognition. If this is not your idea of a great time, then consider it work, put on your best attitude and go.
2. Why do I need to know who else will be there?
Any sort of mixing and mingling event requires advance preparation. Knowing who will be there and what you will talk about is critical to a successful time
3. How long do I have to stay?
Stay long enough to speak to everyone, assuming there’s not a cast of thousands. With a large crowd, interact with as many people as possible, especially key people like your boss. Stay at least an hour or you will broadcast that your appearance was merely obligatory.
4. How do I know when to leave?
If you tend to be a party animal, keep an eye on the time. Don’t be the last to leave. If the invitation is from 5-7, be out of there before 7 o’clock. You don’t want to be mistaken for the clean-up crew unless that is the next job you want to have.
5. What should I wear?
This is the office party; so dress conservatively. If you aren’t certain what to wear, check with the host or a co-worker whose judgment you trust. Make sure your choice reflects well on you professionally. This is not the time to show up in your most revealing outfit.
6. May I take my family?
Not unless indicated on the invitation. If the invitation reads “and family,” take the kids. Otherwise leave them at home with the babysitter. Only those to whom the invitation is addressed should show up.
7. What should I talk about?
It’s not what you have to say; it’s about what other people have to say. The trick is getting other people to talk. If you plan ahead with some open-ended questions, you won’t have any trouble. The best conversationalist is the good listener.
8. How much should I eat?
Whether the event is a reception with light hors d’oeuvres or a full buffet, keep moderation in mind. You are not there for the food. You are there for the fellowship, so resist the urge to fill your plate to overflowing. The person who goes through the line first and takes all the food will not be remembered fondly.
9. How should I handle alcoholic beverages?
Drink in moderation. Alcohol and business rarely mix well, so limit your consumption. This is an opportunity to build business relationships and to promote yourself. You will want to keep your wits about you because your after-hours conduct can have a direct bearing on your future in the office.
10. Should I take a gift?
Unless you are asked to bring something to exchange with your co-workers, the only appropriate gift is one for your host. While flowers and wine are popular items, approach both with caution.
Take wine or liquor only if you are certain your host drinks alcoholic beverages. With flowers, take them already arranged in a vase that does not have to be returned. The host should not have to scurry about to locate a vase and arrange flowers while there are guests to be entertained.
Gift baskets with jams, jellies, or gourmet food items are the best choices.
11. Is it all right to dance on the table with a lampshade on my head?
Not at the office party, no matter how well it fits or what a great little dancer you are. Enjoy yourself, but keep in mind that it is still about business and make sure you don’t have too much fun.
The holiday party is not the time to let down your hair or throw caution to the wind. What you say and do on Saturday night will live on forever in the minds of your associates. If your behavior is inappropriate, your career may be shorter than everyone else’s memory. If you conduct yourself with charm and savvy, your rise up the ladder of success could pick up speed.
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, professional speaker, trainer and author of Business Etiquette for the Holidays. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or LydiaRamsey.com to leave a comment, ask a question or learn more about her programs.