Holiday party etiquette

Ho, Ho. . .Hold On — Holiday Party Etiquette at the Office

I really don’t like sounding preachy. So I wasn’t even going to post anything like this. But the truth is, missteps in holiday party etiquette at the office find their way to my desk every year. Every. Year. For 25 years. So…I decided I’d just give you a few ideas about how not to become a Christmas tale. Consider it my gift to you. You might wish you could exchange it for something more fun. I understand.

How to keep your holiday party etiquette at the office festive not foolish:

Christmas is coming. But Monday even sooner. The somewhat surprising thing about holiday party hiccups are not the events (unfortunately those are fairly predictable), but the people who do them. Perfectly sane employees who are professional all year round are unexpected offenders at the first note of Jingle Bells.

My theory is that it’s the change of venue – being down the pub or in a restaurant event room shifts people’s mindset. It’s easier to remember you’re at work when the biggest threat to judgment is being over-caffeinated. Everyone is surrounded by desks, and conference rooms, and inside voices. Remember that even when fluorescent lights become fairy lights, these are your colleagues.

Overthink your thoughts – before you say them. I don’t think I need to go into detail about which lines are the ones often crossed. People become overly friendly, or they overshare personal information, or they become overly transparent in their views on work issues. Overly is the operative word. Imagine saying or doing what you’re thinking about saying or doing – in the middle of a business meeting. With your boss present. And your spouse. And your grandmother. You know what I mean.

Last to leave is first to regret. I know, that’s kind of a buzz kill. Who wants to leave when they’re still having fun? But you know how you realise the next day that it was that last shot that was one too many? Overstay at the company holiday event and you’re going to wake up with the worst hangover you’ve ever had. Your mates will laugh it off. Human resources will not. It’s just so not worth it. If the crowd is disappearing, so should you.

Being the life of the party is not the life you want. If you find yourself circled by entertained colleagues, if every joke lands perfectly, if your dancing is . . . well, maybe that you’re dancing at all. . .exit stage left. You may have slid from jovial to jester. If not, you’ve quit while you’re ahead, and you’re actually as amazing as you thought.

Make new friends in the new year. An easy rule before you get into a big conversation is consider the person or persons you’re talking to. The less you know them, the less you should say. Don’t know their name? Stick to the weather. Polite exchanges at the canteen? Ask what their holiday plans are. Build yourself a safety net by sticking to peers you know well – not direct reports, or God forbid actual strangers. If you do take it too far, you want to offend only those with whom you have a track record as a decent person who doesn’t . . . do whatever you did. They’ll be more likely to accept your apology, to forgive and maybe even forget, and someone like me won’t even hear about it.

Holiday party etiquette at the office can be enjoyable. And uneventful.

As I said, I was afraid I’d sound preachy. Probably did. Sorry. I wish you health, wealth and happiness in the spirit of the season. And speaking of spirits – shots are never worth the– Oh, forget it. See you in the new year.

Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.

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