Surviving the Office Party – 5 Things You Need to Know

The holiday season is upon us, and many workplaces utilize the opportunity to celebrate the spirit of the season by hosting an event or party.  Although every organization’s approach to the holiday office party can be different, there are often commonalities.

A typical holiday office event or party may be: an event that happens outside regular working hours; has alcoholic beverages available; and will include you, a group of co-workers and various levels of management.

Regardless of their role within the company, those in attendance will inevitably fall into 3 categories:

  • People you love to be around
  • Co-workers you have a general dislike for
  • Peers whom you define yourself as being indifferent to.

The most important commonality?  The most important commonality that exists within any holiday office party is the following… There are no shades of gray and no middle of the road. You will either awake the next day and be able to place a confident X in the success box OR you will awake to the reality that you totally humiliated yourself and wish you could rewind and erase.

The following is a list of 5 (+1) tips that will ensure you land on the right side of the pendulum.

1. Dress for the brand you want to hold (inside and outside the office).

The type of attire (whether uniformed, business casual or overtly formal) that your workplace requires when actively working should NOT directly influence your choice in wardrobe for the event. Showing up in jeans to a black tie affair projects an image of, at best, indifference, and at worst, blatant disrespect. Showing up in a suit to a hayride is at best humorous, and at worst, pompous and pretentious. If you are not entirely sure what to wear, consult with someone. Your wardrobe goal should be to match your choice of clothes to the event, the venue and the image that you want to project.

2. Don’t “pre-drink” before you go.

The holiday season can create an air of informality, and workplace events can create an air of dread. Informality and dread are toxic when combined. It is critical to resist the urge to have a few drinks to “loosen up” before heading out to the event. Even if you believe that you will be more fun, have a better time or won’t be drinking when you get there, drinking as a form of preparation has more risks then benefits. If you choose to partake in a few drinks while at the event go in with a plan. Have a pre-determined limit and alternate any alcoholic beverages with a glass of water in between.

3. Mingle with as many coworkers as possible and use the event as a networking opportunity.

Office parties, although sometimes not a favorite of everyone, can offer great networking opportunities when approached with career goals in mind. Take the opportunity to connect with both colleagues and supervisors who may fall outside of your regular contacts. Use conversations to share information about yourself related to work and to make genuine inquiries about the roles of others whom you may be less familiar with. Do not forget the golden rule of career development: it is more important who you know than what you know. And in this case, the most important opportunity may be in expanding who knows you and who knows what you know.

4. Don’t use this as an opportunity to discuss or attempt to resolve workplace conflicts.

Workplace conflicts are called workplace conflicts and not work party conflicts for a reason. They should stay at and be resolved in the workplace. Any time drinks, fun or team-building festivities are ON the menu, conflict resolution should be OFF. Festive workplace events CAN be opportunities to shift the negative energy that can surround difficult relationships. However, approaching and seeking to address unresolved issues over cocktails or while hayriding is a bad idea in theory and in practice. What may start as a good intention can easily be interpreted by others as poor boundaries, or as a purposeful desire to create awkwardness among party-goers. Stick with respectful greetings and present with an openness to conflict-free dialogue. This may be just the opportunity needed to open the communication freeway when back at work.

5. You don’t have to shut the place down.

You’re not 18 anymore, and most work-place events are not intended to be all night (or even really late night) affairs. Be mindful of the event, the venue and the image you want to project. Sound familiar? See Tip # 1.  Being the life of the party and the person who never knows when to go home in the right context (think: college frat party) can be a great heavy-weight title to hold.  In the wrong context (think: office holiday party), it can mean you lack boundaries, miss social cues and don’t know when to go home. Depending on the event and its context (e.g., you are the organizer, are responsible for paying the bill and have been asked to lock the place up) it may be okay to be the last one left.

+1.   Don’t just read these tips, follow them. Put an X in the success box.

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our resources page


Sheri Coburn

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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