Attending holiday workplace parties can feel obligatory, but they must be approached with caution. Your behavior at a holiday party can either really help – or really hurt – your career, cautions Sharon Schweitzer, international business etiquette expert, author, and founder of Austin-based Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide.
She recounts the experience of an employee who had too much to drink at a holiday party and ended up vomiting on a senior vice president. The employee was so inebriated that he didn’t even remember what had happened the next day. There were clients at the party – not just other company staff. The executive found himself out of a job as a result of his sloppy behavior.
Bryan Chaney, director of employer brand and talent attraction at Indeed.com, says that joining in a celebration of hard effort and teamwork is key to connecting with co-workers and your boss.
"However, much like going to your high school prom," Chaney warns, "this is not the time to make grandiose declarations of love or go overboard with the imbibing. If you want to dance, go dabbing. If you want to rock 'Jack and Diane' on karaoke, belt it out. Just remember, the social posts will live forever. Especially if there's a hashtag."
John Robinson, president of Austin-based Capitol Services Inc., has hired Schweitzer to provide business etiquette training for his sales and management teams. In his eyes, a holiday party is an extension of the business day.
“Interactions before, during, and after work impact our professionalism,” Robinson said. “This is especially true at holiday parties and client dinners where alcohol may be involved.”
In fact, Robinson said he considers behavior at a holiday party “a significant factor” in his evaluation of an employee.
“I always observe it very closely at company functions, particularly holiday parties where alcohol tends to be more prevalent,” he said. ”I’m always careful not to overindulge myself so that I will be aware of their conduct, as well as to avoid setting a bad example.”
Kimberly Patrick, founder and CEO of Austin-based TalentMatched, agrees.
"Behavior at holiday parties if very important," she says. "Some people think they can behave however they like, but it still is a work function, and your employer is watching and formulating beliefs based on your behavior."
To help you prepare for holiday workplace festivities, Schweitzer offers some dos and don’ts of holiday office party etiquette:
- Do RSVP: Be sure to respond to an invitation with 48 hours, regardless of whether it comes via an e-vite, email, telephone or traditional methods. Keep in mind that failing to go to the annual holiday party sends a negative message. Executives and upper management will take note.
- Do arrive and depart on time: Pay attention to the time that you arrive and when you leave. Arriving "fashionably late" is inappropriate. Do not arrive early, but do plan to arrive within the first 15 to 20 minutes. Even if you truly do not want to attend, avoid arriving 30 minutes before the end just to make an appearance.
- Don’t bring an extra guest: Be sure to read the invitation carefully. Discreetly check ahead of time to determine whether spouses or dates are welcome.
- Greet hosts, colleagues and party planners: When you arrive at the party, be sure to greet and thank your hosts and the party planners. Chat briefly and compliment an aspect of the party that you sincerely enjoyed such as the catering, music, or decor. Limit this to a few minutes and move on.
- Don’t hide in the corner: Executives enjoy speaking with employees. Your company party may be one of the few times you see them in person. Introduce yourself, identify your department and shake hands. This is a good time to get on management's radar. Greet your superiors and chat with as many colleagues as you can, introducing yourself to those you don't know well. Resist the urge to spend the entire evening with your office buddies; get in the spirit and mingle with people from other departments. At all costs, avoid appearing bored and ready to dash for the door.
- Don’t binge at the buffet: Eat something beforehand. Be considerate of others and remember your etiquette basics – keep hands clean and avoid a mouthful of hors d’oeuvres. Don't walk around with a full plate, don't double-dip or eat over the chafing dish, and properly discard toothpicks, napkins, and plates.
- Don’t be Monday’s gossip: This is probably the most common mistake that people make at a company 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 to leave your right hand free for handshakes.
“Unfortunately, holiday parties and the stress of the holidays sometimes brings out the very worst in people,” Schweitzer said. “People have been let go because of what happened at a holiday party.”