A few years ago, a former colleague who had recently been hired attended our annual holiday party, which included a sit-down dinner. At his table, he performed a napkin folding “trick” that was meant to break the ice. The napkin, however, was turned into a woman’s bra. Harmless enough to most - but some women at the table were offended and felt uneasy for the balance of the night.
Four in 10 American workers have either seen or committed a major indiscretion at an employer-based holiday event. One in five workers has admitted to drinking too much at a holiday party. And 14 percent of U.S. workers have actually gotten a pink slip after poor holiday party behavior, according to Connecticut-based Bolt Insurance Agency, which serves small business owners.
As millions of American workers find some respite from the rat race by attending their company’s holiday party this year, many are also stepping foot into a potential workplace minefield.
Throughout the month of December, workers are deciding what to wear (or not wear); which partner or friend to bring along; how to get to the event (and back home again); and what to drink (or not to drink) throughout the evening.
Career etiquette is critical, of course, so here are a few key dos and don’ts to keep in mind, according to Nicole Williams, a career expert from LinkedIn:
Extend Yourself. The office holiday party is usually attended by company bigwigs who relish the opportunity to mingle with employees they don’t get to see regularly. In this “casual, festive and relaxed environment, it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to the CEO or other top leaders,” advises Williams. “You see your closest colleagues every day – now is the time to expand your reach a little and get out of your comfort zone.”
Here's what to say: “Excuse me, Mr. Smith. I'm John Doe and I work in the TK department. I just want to thank you for (choose one: the party, your support, your encouragement, etc.) and wish you a happy holiday.”
Study the Guest List Before You Arrive. “Need some conversation starters? A few days before the party, study some of the attendees’ LinkedIn profiles and discover what you might have in common,” says Williams. Arming yourself with a little information is smart and proactive.
Go Lightly on the Booze. What seems obvious isn’t always – you don’t want to be embarrassed later. “Have just one glass of wine,” advises Williams – not three. Have one glass of punch, not four or five. Remember why you’re there – and save any overindulging for personal occasions away from the work setting.
Don’t Talk Shop All Night Long. It’s a huge bore – and terrifically inappropriate. “Don’t talk about things like promotions, meetings or client relationships,” advises Williams. “Instead, ask your boss how her tennis or golf game is going. Find things in common. Try deepening and strengthening your work relationships.” Above all, she says, listen closely. “The goal is to make meaningful connections. Career success is all about relationships.”
Don’t Post Off-Color Updates on Social Media. And for that matter, don’t be glued to your smartphone. “If you’re busy tweeting or taking party pictures, you’re not interacting with the people around you,” says Williams. “Instead, bring your best, most sociable self.”
Don’t Overindulge at the Buffet. “Remember that the workplace holiday party is definitely not an ‘all you can eat’ event,” says Williams.
Don’t Tell Off-Color Jokes or Stories. Your best friend may love ‘em – but no one at work wants to hear your off-color jokes. More importantly - you could be subjecting yourself to a sexual harassment charge.
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