As you look forward to your firm’s annual holiday party, keep in mind that company-sponsored celebrations are not like other festive gatherings. Office parties are hybrid business/social events and therefore have their own rules of etiquette. Use the following guidelines to maintain a professional image and still enjoy yourself:
Remember to mingle. A holiday party is the perfect time to meet colleagues from other divisions or offices. Following introductions, say something like, “It’s nice to finally put a name to a face. Those files you emailed me really helped with that project last month.” You can also use a holiday gathering to become better acquainted with coworkers you see often but rarely have time to chat with – like the receptionist or your department’s newest intern.
Dress appropriately. Despite the decorations, the office party is still a business-related event. It’s not the place for that strapless, hot-pink mini dress. On the other hand, don’t feel like you have to go with a drab, buttoned-down look. Wear what you normally wear to work, jazzing it up with a pretty scarf, some bright jewellery or a sweater shot with metallic thread. If you’ll be going straight from your desk to dinner, bring dressy shoes and an evening bag to work with you. Likewise, men shouldn’t show up in a sweatshirt and jeans. The same business casual many firms allow in the office can also work for parties: slacks and a collared shirt.
Be culturally sensitive. In our diverse society, not everyone is celebrating the same holiday you are. Be careful about exclaiming “Merry Christmas!” to everyone you meet. A neutral phrase — such as “Happy Holidays” — is more appropriate.
Mind your manners. It’s a party, so feel free to eat, laugh, make small talk and forget about the daily grind. But be careful you don’t go too far. Everyone’s heard about out-of-control workers who embarrass themselves and their employers at office parties. The best way to avoid a breach of etiquette is to be slightly more formal than you would usually be at a party. If alcoholic beverages are served, practice moderation.
Meet the higher-ups. At a holiday party, senior executives are generally more inclined to hob-nob with employees. Ask your manager to introduce you. Develop a one-minute summary about yourself in advance, so you don’t become tongue-tied when you shake the CEO’s hand. Be courteous and professional. Don’t bend the executive’s ear with trivia – stick to general, work-related conversation. When the executive shows signs of concluding the conversation, say “Nice to have met you,” and move on.
Avoid excessive shop talk. Don’t buttonhole a coworker with a lengthy discussion about deadlines, deliverables and the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. If someone starts a similar conversation with you, offer to review details first thing in the morning, when it’s easier to concentrate on business matters. In general, keep conversations light and upbeat – avoid politics and office gossip.
Make a graceful exit. If one-third of the guests have left, it’s probably a good time to say your good-byes. Try not to be the first or last to leave, especially if the party is at your manager’s house. Watch your host for cues (clearing plates and glasses, putting food away, etc.). If you must leave early, be sure to notify your host beforehand.
Following these suggestions can help you seamlessly blend the professional and social sides of yourself, making the office party one of the high points of your holiday calendar.