‘Tis the season…for ice skating and gingerbread houses and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, yes, but also for another time-honored holiday tradition: the office party. The social event whirlwind every December encompasses soirees both personal and professional, though the latter tend to pose the greater etiquette challenge. Rather than waste your time (never more valuable than it is during the holiday season!) deciphering the delicate calculus of office party work and play, let us play Emily Post and answer your most burning etiquette questions.
Should you accept?
In a word: Yes! A year of professional accomplishments is no small feat – it deserves to be celebrated! If celebrating doesn’t provide adequate motivation for attendance, however, consider the career benefits. Holiday parties are just networking events in disguise; plan to be there for at least 30 minutes so you have time to mingle and make connections with people outside your department.
What should I wear?
No doubt this is the defining question of the holiday season. Even if a given event invitation does recommend a dress code, hosts tend to play fast and loose with “what to wear” guidelines this time of year (creative black tie, anyone?). Ask other women around your office what they plan to wear and then try to match your outfit’s formality and tone to theirs. And while the holiday party can be a great opportunity to show off a bit more personality than you do during the workweek, remember the first tenet of all office events is professionalism, not personal style. Avoid anything too short, too tight or too revealing. If you have to question whether it’s too risqué, it is.
Can I drink in front of my boss and co-workers?
Seventy percent of Human Resources professionals agree that drinking is acceptable at holiday parties, but their OK is not a green light for overindulgence. While alcohol in moderation can act as a mild social lubricant, in excess it becomes a disaster waiting to happen. Stick to two slowly sipped drinks, maximum. Any more and you run the risk of damaging your carefully cultivated professional image with “Animal House” reenactments.
Who should I talk to and about what?
This is not the time to be a wallflower – there are too many valuable connections to make! Approach people you don’t know very well and strike up a conversation. While the office setting often prevents such casual interactions, the holiday party’s festive atmosphere is meant to encourage them. Utilize this valuable opportunity to forge new and deepen existing business relationships. Don’t focus entirely on work, however. Even coworkers as business savvy as you want to discuss other topics at what is ostensibly a social event. Congratulate coworkers if you were impressed by their work on a particular project, but otherwise stick to (upbeat, non-controversial) topics, like holiday plans, travel and hobbies.
Should I approach my superiors?
Yes! Who better to witness your networking skills at work than those in charge of promotions and pay raises? As with other coworkers, avoid being overly business focused and get to know your superiors on a more personal level.
At this year’s office holiday party, enjoy the well-deserved opportunity to celebrate all you’ve accomplished professionally, but don’t forget to take advantage of the unique networking opportunity. With any luck, if you play your office party cards right, you’ll have even more to celebrate next year!