As a kid, there were plenty of reasons to be excited about the holiday season. Namely, it guaranteed time home from school and filled us with the giddy anticipation of gifts galore. Although the winter holidays should still signal times of joy for us adults, they're notoriously responsible for stress-induced blood pressure spikes, the depletion of our hard-earned capital, and their inexplicable knack for turning any innocuous family discussion into WWIII.
Among the handful of things to actually look forward to (or dread with every fiber of our being, depending) is the holiday office party. 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 worried about behaving badly after downing a couple of holiday cocktails, don't be.
The cross-cultural international etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer has broken 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.
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," notes Schweitzer. "Attendance is practically mandatory, and failing to attend the office holiday party sends a negative message."
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 OK 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, says Schweitzer, "avoid them unless they're apropos of the party's theme."
No one wants to shake anyone's greasy hands: "Keep hands clean," says Schweitzer, and avoid waxing lyrical with a mouthful of mini-crabcakes. Opt for eating some protein-laden snacks pre-party, too. "Protein is a must," she explains, "because it will lessen the effects of imbibing in too many cocktails."
Watch the Clock
Arrive within 15 to 20 minutes of the starting time and leave 30 minutes before the ending time, advises Schweitzer. "Arriving too late shows a lack of appreciation and overstaying isn't only inconsiderate, but it advertises that you have nowhere else to go." Harsh? Maybe. But true, indeed.
Curb Your Consumption
Yep, this one's a biggie: "Too much enthusiasm for the open bar may cost you your job," Schweitzer says. "Having one drink 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," she notes. "Remember to warmly greet coworkers you see daily but branch out to new people. By connecting with multiple colleagues from all areas of the organization, it's possible to cultivate mentors, references, and contacts that boost your career. Take advantage of the opportunity."
Set a Goal
Goal-setting is just as important in fostering a successful career as it is regarding 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," recommends Schweitzer. "And don't forget to follow up after the fact."
Network and '86 The Phone
Look alive, says Schweitzer. "If you're glued to your phone, you'll miss out on key face-to-face interactions with your colleagues." (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 Gossip
Remember that time you...Well, if you tell your colleagues the story at this year's holiday office party, they won't forget it, either. "There's a fine line between sharing funny stories about your personal life and divulging inappropriate information," notes Schweitzer. "Your superiors are also in attendance, and people who can promote you will be paying attention."
Likewise, keep conversations light and good-natured. No one wants to hear your right-wing views on the state of the union—or hear all the salacious details about when Sally kissed Johnny in the women's bathroom. "Avoid gossiping, skip controversial topics, and keep the mood positive." Some acceptable—and very neutral—talking points include travel, pets, movies, and books. Also, although you may be tempted to seek common ground, incessantly talking shop isn't just boring, it's tone-deaf, too.
Keep Dance Moves in Check
"Be aware of how your grooves may be perceived by those around you," advises Schweitzer, "because letting loose may not be the best way to impress your superiors." Truer words have never been spoken—especially if you've ever been told you dance like Elaine from Seinfeld. "Also keep in mind that social media captures everything," she cautions. "Be aware of this when ordering another drink and hitting the dance floor."