‘Tis the season for awkward interactions: How to survive the office holiday party

| March 2, 2017

Some offices put the awkward interactions on “The Office” to shame. For employees at Dunder Mifflin-wannabe companies, the current season brings with it the dreaded holiday party, an event that’s fun in theory, and often the opposite in practice.

But office parties can be fun! Follow a few simple guidelines, and spare yourself the awkwardness this year. Below, our answers to some commonly-asked questions about the office holiday party.

From Seattle Municipal Archives.

An office holiday party in 1962. From Seattle Municipal Archives.

How many drinks are acceptable?

If you do drink, keep in mind that even a small nip can affect your judgement, says etiquette guru Peter Post. Expert Robin Abrahams suggests imbibing a single rum and Coke or gin and tonic, then switching over to alcohol-free Coke or tonic for the rest of the evening, so that “no one will know how much you’re not drinking,” which is especially helpful in workplaces with a heavy drinking culture.

Grubstreet posted a humorous guide to drinking at the office party, sorted by “cool” and “uncool” companies, available here. (How can you spot a cool company? One sign is that you and your boss have discussed hangovers in the past. An uncool company? “You had to take a drug test before you were hired,” specifies the blog.) Their takeaway: Interns should drink the least, if at all, while “cogs in the machine” can drink the most.

office holiday party

Set a drink limit for yourself if you think over indulging could be a problem. From ataraxis.

In all seriousness, though, consider skipping booze altogether or imposing a one-drink maximum when interacting with anyone who is even remotely connected to someone with the power to fire, hire, or formally complain about you. It’s harder to offend while sober than while drunk.

I’m new to the company. What should I wear?

Ask a coworker or the event organizer what the party was like last year. If it’s taking place right after work, it’s likely that your usual garb will suffice. But be sure to ask around first. Is there a theme? If everyone is in a Santa suit, your business casual jeans-and-tee will draw unwanted attention.

What do we even talk about?

Arrive with a few general interest topics in mind: competitors’ mergers, popular TV shows, travel plans, kids’ accomplishments. Office parties aren’t meant to be ragers, mixers, or singles dances; they’re meant to boost employee morale. Having a few inoffensive topics in mind helps take off the pressure — and perhaps they’ll even resurface if you break the zero-to-one-drink rule. You don’t need to focus solely on work, but if you partake in any particularly unusual or potentially divisive hobbies, you might leave those off the table.

Do I — gulp — karaoke?

Etiquette expert Robin Abrahams offers the Boston Globe a resounding yes. “It’s just good office politics…It shows you’re a team player and not excessively risk-averse.” Same goes for bowling and other “team building” fun.

Can I bring a date?

Unless you’re expressly invited to bring a date, and have confirmed that others will be doing so as well, don’t do it.The rule applies to friends and children as well as romantic partners.

Should I present my holiday gifts at the party?

No — save those for when you have alone time with your coworkers, supervisor, etc. Don’t risk making others feel excluded, as you’ll run the risk of them carrying a resentment over into the workplace.

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Category: Office courtesy

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