Office Holiday Party Do’s & Don’ts

11/21/2016 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2016
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Every winter, business owners host formal and sometimes elaborate holiday parties. At the very least, excess celebration and etiquette mistakes can become fodder for next day stories and eventually legend for future parties. Are you up for a promotion? Knowing the rules of business holiday etiquette will help you navigate the upcoming season like a pro, not to mention give you an edge on the competition!

DO RSVP: Be sure to respond to an invitation within 24-48 hours, regardless of whether it comes via Evite, Paperless Post, email, telephone or traditional methods. As much as you may not wish to attend, you must. Attendance is practically mandatory – failing to go to the annual holiday party sends a negative message. Executives and upper management will take note.

Do Arrive & Depart on Time: Pay attention to the time that you arrive and when you leave. Arriving ‘fashionably late’ is inappropriate. Don’t arrive early, just plan to arrive within the first 15-20 minutes. Even if you truly don’t want to attend, avoid arriving 30 minutes before the end just to make an appearance.

Do Read the Invitation Carefully: Avoid a potentially uncomfortable evening! Be sure to read the invitation carefully. Know the company policy on guests, or whether the event is ‘Employees only’ or ‘Plus One’. Discreetly check ahead of time to determine whether spouses or dates are welcome. All of the planning decisions have already been carefully weighed, including expenses and scheduling. Remember this is an officially sponsored company event.

Do Greet Hosts, Colleagues & Party Planners: When you arrive at the party, be sure to greet, thank and shake hands with your hosts and the party planners. If it is a company or partnership owned by more than one individual, be sure to thank all of them. Chat briefly and compliment an aspect of the party that you sincerely enjoyed such as the cuisine, music, or décor. Limit this to 5 minutes and move on.

Do Mingle: Everyone watches the entrance to a room. When you arrive, don’t head straight for the bar or buffet. Enter, pause, step to the right, greet and shake hands with the person standing there. Executives enjoy speaking with employees. Your company party may be one of the few times you see them in person. Introduce yourself, state the department you work in and shake hands.

This is a good time to become visible to your organization’s leadership. Greet your superiors, and chat with as many colleagues as you can, introducing yourself to those that you don’t know well. Greet co-workers warmly, and with a smile on your face. Resist the urge to spend the entire evening with your office buddies – get in the spirit and mingle with co-workers from other departments. At all costs, avoid appearing bored and ready to dash for the door.

Don’t Give a Monologue: Strive to keep business talk to a minimum! When socializing with business colleagues don’t talk shop. Instead, the office party is an opportunity to get to know colleagues a little better on a personal level. Stay with topics such as upcoming travel, best-selling books, children, sports, pets and movies. Remember to avoid politics, sex and religion. Keep discussions positive and no more than 5-10 minutes. Avoid gossiping, complaining and bragging. The party is intended to be a time to celebrate the successes of the year. A cheerful mood is in order!

Don’t Wear That! Pay attention to the attire listed on the invitation. The holiday party may be a festive occasion; however it is still attended by your coworkers. This especially applies to those who are sometimes tempted to use company parties to strut their stuff. Leave too-short, too-tight and too-revealing clothing in the closet. Use good taste to select an elegant outfit; leave the over-the-knee-boots and muscle shirts for a different event. Creating a professional image is hard work; don’t undermine it in one evening.

Don’t Binge at the Buffet: Eat a small amount of protein beforehand. You were not invited because the hosts thought you were hungry! Be considerate of others and remember your etiquette basics – keep hands clean and avoid a mouth full of hors d’oeuvres. Avoid walking around with a full plate, do not double dip or eat over the chafing dish, and properly discard toothpicks, napkins, and plates.

Don’t Over-Imbibe: This is probably the most common mistake that executives make during the holiday party. Alcohol and a loose tongue may add up to a regretful Monday morning equation. Consider tea, club soda or water. If you choose to drink, do so responsibly. Remember to carry your refreshment in your left hand. Leave your right hand free for handshaking.

Don’t Toast or Clap for Yourself: The CEO may offer a toast during the evening. When the toast is for a colleague, raise your glass at the toast conclusion, when the host raises their glass. Don’t clink your glass with everyone else; it’s distracting. Pause and watch. The recipient will most likely reciprocate with a toast. If you have been a star performer, you may be honored with a toast. Accept it gracefully. Refrain from drinking to a toast offered in your honor; it’s like clapping for yourself. Be sure to stand and make a toast to the person who toasted you, thanking them for the recognition.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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