Once thought gone for good, the office holiday party appears to be staging a comeback. While these parties offer you the opportunity to socialize with your business associates in an informal setting -- make no mistake about it, they are business events! I've witnessed and heard many people commit career suicide due to their inappropriate behavior and conversation at these functions. Following are some tips I remind my clients of to insure they utilize these business holiday events as a career enhancer -- not a career de-stabilizer!
1. Office holiday events are really business events masquerading as parties! It is easy to be seduced into forgetting you are with business associates because the atmosphere might be lively, you are dancing to great music, eating delicious food and the booze is flowing. It is imperative to remember that regardless of the location and atmosphere of your party, the people in attendance are all related to some aspect of your career, i.e., they are your colleagues, clients, executives, etc. This fact doesn't change after the umpteenth drink. Therefore, avoid being lured into a false sense of camaraderie and familiarity. Do not behave in any way or say anything that you would not say or do in a professional setting -- no inappropriate comments or off color jokes.
2. Don't even think about blowing off this party! Go to the office holiday party and work the room to the best of your ability. Although many companies (albeit, not all of them) suggest attendance at these events are "optional", your absence may be noted and erroneously mis-interpreted. The last thing you want to do is give the impression you are not a team player! Therefore, attend these parties, regardless of how "optional" they might have been advertised! Once you are there, use this party as a networking opportunity and do your best to make sure you say hello to as many people as possible. Even if you don't know some of the other attendees well, or you interact with them minimally, everyone can be wished a happy holiday season. If it is at all possible, make a conscious yet subtle effort to briefly interact with all the key players in your company. This might be one of the few opportunities you have for face-to-face interaction(s) with them.
3. Dress appropriately for the occasion! The venue often dictates the dress code. If you are in doubt as to how formal or casual the party will be, make an inquiry. Every office has that person who always seems to know these things -- so a little bit of investigation will go a long way in saving you the embarrassment of being over or under-dressed! Additionally, office holiday parties are not the time to come slinking in with a ridiculously low-cut dress, nine inch high heels, or a skirt that is way too short! Casual attire does not mean dirty clothes, wrinkled shirts or ripped pants. Be certain you are aware of how formal the affair is and dress accordingly.
4. Moderation is the operative word of the day/night! All behavior in moderation. Yes, you are at a party and I'm not trying to be a kill joy but the office holiday party is first and foremost a business function. You are not attending this event for the food, the music, the dancing, although they might be first-rate and should be enjoyed. Avoid overdrinking -- period. Nobody fondly remembers the next day the person dancing on the bar with a lampshade on his or her head, or the person vomiting in the parking lot. Conversation about business and your professional role specifically should be kept to a minimum. If you are asked about your work, keep your answer short and sweet -- nobody wants to hear the specifics of anything you are doing; definitely don't bore others with your achievements. Try to be authentic and compliment others - most people can pick out a phony person a mile away!
Regardless of whether you love these holiday office parties or not, it is a smart career move to attend them and behavior appropriately. Use them as an opportunity to socialize with people whom you normally don't get a chance to relax with during the course of the year!
All success begins with relationships; use the office holiday party as a way to initiate and/or solidify your business relationships!