How Not to Behave at the Office Party

Susan Adams

After a long, difficult year, we all want to let our hair down. Don't do it at the office party.

It hasn't been an easy year. You probably spent it grinding away at a thankless job, having been burdened with the workload of three people in your department who got laid off, and you still see no prospect of a raise or a promotion in sight. You'd think you could at least let loose at the Christmas party, let your hair down and speak your mind for once.

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Don't do it. The office fête is not the place for unconstrained chatter. It's also not the place for personal confession, expressions of frustration or speechifying about what you'd do with the company if you were in charge.

Instead, remember that you are at a professional function and behave that way. That means listening as much as talking, keeping your conversation on safe subjects like hobbies, movies or family and deferring to superiors.

"Don't outshine people who need the spotlight, or hold some aspect of job security in your hands," advises John Challenger, chief executive of the worldwide outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. "The holiday party is a great time to build relationships. Don't get into behaviors that might cause relationships to deteriorate or be damaged."

[See Holiday Office Party Do's and Don'ts]

"The most important thing employees should remember is that regardless of where the party is held, it is an extension of the workplace, and you need to behave accordingly," says Lori Erickson, vice president of human resources at

John Bliss, the founder of BlissPR in Manhattan, doesn't take any chances. For more than 15 years he has insisted that his employees attend a pre-party pizza dinner. He orders enough pies for the 30-member staff at around 4:30 in the afternoon and watches to make sure everyone has a few slices. It's a guarantee no one will be drinking on an empty stomach.

"It's like blotting paper," he says. "That way, you can have fun without getting embarrassed." Companies like BlissPR have a lot at stake. When they invite clients to their parties, the last thing they need is a drunken staffer.

More companies are serving alcohol at holiday parties this year, according to an annual survey on holiday celebrations by the executive search firm Battalia Winston Amrop. Seventy-nine percent of companies say they plan to serve alcoholic beverages, up from 73% last year. Alcohol service hit a high in 2000, when 90% of firms offered it, according to the 21 years of Battalia reports.

The dangers of excessive alcohol consumption are well known, but cautionary tales are worth retelling: Annmarie Woods recalls a holiday gathering a few years ago for her sales team at a leading financial services firm. The group began the evening at a downtown restaurant and then headed to a dance club. The evening being celebratory, their boss picked up the bill for a limousine to get them from the restaurant to the club. While en route, one of the staffers vomited into Woods' purse.

"The next day at the meeting, everyone was talking about it. Their opinion of her had been altered," Woods puts it mildly.

[See the Legal Issues: Serving Alcohol at Office Parties]

The office party offers a unique opportunity to bond with superiors and colleagues. But don't blow it. "If you can't keep a lid on it, don't go to it," Challenger advises.

Don't Arrive Late

Zsolt Nyulaszi/

The early stage of a party offers a great chance to chat with senior executives in a relaxed atmosphere before it all gets too hectic.






Don't Be a Wallflower

Don't sit in the corner and chat with the people you work with every single day. Branch out and introduce yourself to people in other departments. You never know who could help you move up the ladder.





Don't Lose Control

If alcohol is served, enjoy a drink or two, not 12. Getting bombed at a company-sponsored event may not get you fired, but it will make you the butt of jokes and could have a lasting negative effect.





Don't Show Up the Boss

Spencer Gordon/

If he's carrying on about something you know more about, keep it to yourself.







Don't Tell Racy Jokes

Eric Hood/

No matter how much the atmosphere loosens up as the evening proceeds, there will still be people who can be offended--and who will remember it the next day.






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