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Office Christmas Parties: An Etiquette Minefield

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It's that time of year again when Christmas brings the annual flutter of social activity away from the confines of the office. Yet, behind the gloss of festive celebrations and the camaraderie of Christmas parties is the reality that you are socialising with colleagues under the watchful eye of those further up the food chain.

Office socials may look very much like any other party, but never forget they are a test of interpersonal skills and how you fit into the company. And, as some office socials come but once a year, it's important to work it.

In the newly published book Etiquette for Girls, Debrett's -- the English experts on etiquette and behaviour for over two centuries -- sets out some basic rules and considerations that help you survive the pitfalls of the party season.

It is important to remember that attempts to mix business with pleasure can be rather strained. In the dog-eat-dog world of office politics the pressure is on to be a social sensation. If your behaviour at the office party is noticed and applauded, who knows what giddy heights you may climb to in the new year?

The best plan, say Debrett's, is to play up the effort, manners and charm. Go to the party armed with some icebreaking conversation (extra-curricular activities, families, holiday plans). Circulate and socialise, but keep it upbeat and general. Don't gossip, spread rumours or confess your sins. It's all about achieving that fine balance of laissez-faire sociability and tactical conversation.

Although it can be more fun to mix with equals and underlings, your boss should neither be besieged nor ignored. Maintain your professional gloss, but drop the solemnity and work the charm. Social dormice may want to rely on a colleague, but clinging on to allies won't win any accolades from the bosses. You want to make an impression, but make sure it's for all the right reasons.

Dress up; making an effort immediately communicates a positive attitude. Try to cling on to a shred of professionalism -- even in the darkest corner of the dance floor -- and you'll be able to confidently hold your head up high on return to your desk. Steer clear of mistletoe and dirty dancing, and keep goodnight kisses innocent.

Be cautious of unchecked alcoholic intake or else inhibitions fall by the wayside and inner truths may be propelled into reality (clumsy crushes, latent dislikes). Equally, keep an eye on others and watch out for flagging colleagues. Helping them to find coats and hail taxis is an act of responsible friendship which may be observed and applauded -- team work still counts even in the early hours.

Thanking the host on departure is basic good manners (you can usually slip quietly away from larger parties). To kiss or not to kiss goodbye? Spontaneous affection is fine, but if you've evaded the CEO all night, now is not the time to break into their personal space. If kissing of a less innocent nature is on the cards, Etiquette for Girls advises that you take it off-site or you'll be tomorrow's news...