Among the many things we love about the holiday season kicking off (aside from a good excuse to binge-watch all of the classic flicks and sip mulled wine by a crackling fire), we're most excited about the plethora of parties we'll be attending this year. Whether you're a plus-one at your SO's office holiday party or getting ready for your own company's soirée, you have plenty to be excited about: dressing up, sipping a cocktail you didn't prepare yourself, and dancing the night away.
Overall, it should be a fun night—as long as you don't overstep any boundaries. But if you're unsure of what constitutes boorish behavior, or you're worried about behaving badly after downing a couple of holiday cocktails, don't be.
Luckily, etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer is here to break down the most essential holiday office party rules you need to follow—from sidestepping awkward conversations to avoiding full-on faux pas—so you can enjoy the party and ensure your job remains intact.
Meet the Expert
Sharon Schweitzer is an etiquette expert who's helped train leaders at various Fortune 500 companies.
If you're a little fuzzy on proper etiquette, consider this your official cheat sheet.
Don't Skip the Party
You thought you could get away with it, didn't you? Just know that "your organization planned this event to celebrate the year's accomplishments and to thank the employees," Schweitzer notes. "Attendance is practically mandatory, and failing to attend the office holiday party sends a negative message." Your co-workers will definitely notice if you're not there and may even feel a bit offended by your absence. If you have more exciting plans later in the evening, the least you could do is pop by the office shindig for a glass of wine or a quick bite before heading out.
Know the Rules
"Depending on where you are and how long you've been at the organization, take time to research, adjust, and learn what behavior is acceptable and expected," advises Schweitzer. New hires should take time to learn about any unwritten rules concerning the company culture, too, she adds. "Find a trusted colleague who's comfortable sharing some insight."
Dress to Impress
It's okay to dress up for the occasion. Some companies may define a dress code (hint: You should follow it), but if your company gives no indication, err on the side of business-appropriate. Remember, says Schweitzer, "The holiday event, in whatever form it takes, is an extension of the workday. Choose modest attire that maintains the professional reputation you've built." And as for those ironically ugly holiday sweaters, Schweitzer says, "avoid them unless they're apropos of the party's theme."
If you're going to be drinking, even if it's just one cocktail, make sure to have at least some food in your system. When there's good in your stomach, alcohol is processed slower, meaning you won't get as drunk as fast as you would if you drink on an empty stomach.
Watch the Clock
Arrive within 15 to 20 minutes of the starting time and leave 30 minutes before the ending time, Schweitzer advises. "Arriving too late shows a lack of appreciation, and overstaying may be perceived as inconsiderate." Plus, what's cooler than arriving fashionably late and heading out before the party starts to get lame?
Curb Your Consumption
This one's a biggie: "Too much enthusiasm for the open bar may cost you your job," Schweitzer admits. "Having a drink or two is perfectly fine, but an office party is the last place you should over-imbibe. Even if your bosses and other colleagues hit the bar for seconds or thirds, refrain—and drink sparkling water instead."
"Holiday office parties can be a professionally comfortable venue to get to know clients and unfamiliar coworkers better," Schweitzer notes. "Remember to warmly greet coworkers you see daily but branch out to new people." By connecting with multiple colleagues from various departments or teams, it's possible to meet new mentors, references, and even friends that can make your time at the company more pleasant.
Set a Goal
Goal-setting is just as important in fostering a successful career as it regards your holiday office party. "Have a goal in mind, whether it's talking to a specific superior, meeting new clients, or connecting with people from different departments," Schweitzer recommends.
Ditch Your Cell Phone
Look alive! "If you're glued to your phone, you'll miss out on key face-to-face interactions with your colleagues," Schweitzer claims. (Constantly scrolling through Insta at a work event is off-putting, to say the least.) Plus, there are probably a lot of work people you don't know—but should. And they should know you, too. "This is your chance to converse with senior leaders of the organization," she points out. "If you work for a large organization and don't often see the CEO, introduce yourself, state the department you work in, and shake their hand. These interactions might open doors for future growth opportunities."
Avoid TMI and Gossiping
"There's a fine line between sharing funny stories about your personal life and divulging inappropriate information," Schweitzer explains. "Your superiors are also in attendance, and people who can promote you will be paying attention." Likewise, keep conversations light and good-natured. One good thing to avoid is gossiping because, as we all know, it can be very hurtful. Some acceptable—and very neutral—conversation-starters include travel, pets, movies, and books.
Keep Dance Moves in Check
"Be aware of how your grooves may be perceived by those around you because letting loose may not be the best way to impress your superiors," Schweitzer advises. Truer words have never been spoken. Of course, if you want to dance, definitely head to the dance floor and have a ball, just remember that you're not out with your friends; you're with your colleagues and bosses.