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You can take advantage of the office party as an opportunity to have some fun and advance your career—or inadvertently crush any chance you had of making partner. Believe it or not, your firm's holiday party is one of the most important social events you will attend. That's because it is a rare occasion on which the people you work with will be able to see you as an actual person. And while you might not be one of them, there are people who look forward to hobnobbing with their coworkers on a social level.
The holiday office party is a great time to cut loose—just not too loose. Following certain fundamental rules of etiquette can make you a welcome guest at any office gathering.
To Go or Not To Go
Attendance is not optional. Don't even think about skipping the event unless you are (or a loved one is) at death's door. Whether you like it or not, showing up at the office party is an important part of your job. If you absolutely are not the party-animal type, try to approach the evening as you would a business meeting. Grin and bear it.
What Not to Wear
Keep in mind that this is not a night on the town or a party at your best friend's house. While you will certainly want to look your best and wear an appropriately cheerful outfit, your choice of clothing for the party should be as tasteful as what you wear to work. Save the sexy, form-fitting ensemble for a different type of occasion.
Strangers in the Night
Chances are there will be quite a few people in attendance whom you have not met, such as your coworkers' dates or spouses. Decide beforehand that you will be the one who makes them feel welcome. Be sure to smile, say hello, and make small talk with as many guests as you can outside of your regular set of work friends. If you do, you will make a better impression on everyone and have a better time in the process.
Why Don't You Stay Just a Little Bit Longer?
Even if you are not thrilled to be there, stay at the party long enough to see and be seen by your immediate supervisors and the guest of honor, if there is one. If you stay for less than an hour, it will be obvious to everyone that you really didn't want to come. If it turns out that you are having a great time after all, try to leave half an hour before the scheduled ending time; otherwise, as business etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey puts it, "You just might find yourself on the cleaning crew."
Even if you really don't want to go out alone, don't take it upon yourself to invite a guest unless it specifically says on the invitation that guests are welcome. No matter how successful the firm is, there will be a budget to consider. Plus, you don't want to put your guest in the uncomfortable position of being the only non-employee there. And always, always, always double-check to make sure that the party will be a family gathering before you bring your children.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
The fact that there is free food is not an invitation to fill up in lieu of eating dinner. Also, because alcohol plus business rarely equals success, bear in mind that less is more. Something that you say or do under the influence now could result in the loss of a raise or a promotion down the road—or, even worse, the loss of your reputation. Think of your reputation as your most valuable asset, and do all you can to preserve it.
Flirting, touching, and gossiping are always inappropriate. The best way to avoid the embarrassment and regret of tomorrow is to keep your wits about you today. Saint Augustine once said, "Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation." So if you think there is even a chance that you might overdo it, don't do it at all.
Finally, don't be fooled by the party's less than formal social scene. A holiday office party is still a business function, and your behavior still needs to be moderate, controlled, and socially acceptable.