by Tina Seymour Demoran, Esquire
As the Holiday Season has descended upon us, I thought I’d pull together a few tips from over 22 years of attending parties, both big and small, thrown by my employers.
Even though this lawyer only pulls the business suits out of the closet for court or new client meetings these days, up until just a few years ago, I was in the same boat as everyone else when the invitation would either hit my email account or interoffice mailbox.
“You are cordially invited to the (insert company name here) annual Holiday party…”
Most of the time, I enjoyed attending them. Sometimes I would groan out loud and wonder if I could fake an injury or schedule an out of town last-minute training session.
It’s amazing how a little alcohol, some music and hanging out with your coworkers and boss offsite can create an atmosphere where many people begin to think that this is just another party…and anything goes.
Stop right there.
I’ve seen many careers, potential promotions and (till-then) cordial working relationships come to a screeching halt due to events that occurred at the annual Christmas work party.
And it doesn’t matter how many years employees were with the company, who they “knew” or what their educational level was at the time of the party…misbehaving at the company party ruined more than just their reputation and created fodder for gossip in the break room come Monday morning.
So, if you’ll allow me to put on my “preaching pants,” let me share with you a few key tips I’ve picked up over the years…
If allowed, bring your spouse or significant other and make sure you both have a game plan in place before you walk into the party spot. Know “the look” (you know which one I’m talking about) that signifies one of you is either getting a little out of hand or feeling uncomfortable and what your strategy will be if either occurs. Respect the fact that your date is going to rely on you to introduce him/her to people and don’t wander off, leaving them to stand alone in a group of total strangers or worse, standing next to your boss to make small talk. If they shouldn’t bring up a certain subject (aka that work project that is SUPPOSED to be confidential), let them know BEFORE the party…or better yet, here’s a thought, keep that work project confidential.
Don’t let the office party be your first date with someone. The last thing you need is to find out your potential new paramour has been holding back on certain characteristics that could be detrimental to your career when mixed with alcohol and 20 or more of your coworkers and boss.
Don’t relax your dress code due to the party atmosphere. If you wouldn’t wear it to the office, don’t wear it to the office party.
Stay away from inappropriate jokes and topics. I know, I know, everyone loves to laugh. But if you wouldn’t tell the joke at work, don’t tell it here.
Remember that you have to work with these people after the Holiday Season is over. A relaxed atmosphere, coupled with a little liquid courage, may appear to be the perfect time to air out all those issues you’ve been holding back on for the last 12 months. It’s not. Trust me.
Realize that, even at “voluntary attendance” parties, you are still being observed by the higher ups. In the business world, deals are made every day in social settings. How you act at the party is going to tell your boss a lot about how you may act if he/she invites you to an impromptu meeting with a potential client for drinks or dinner later on down the road.
Don’t talk about work unless it’s appropriate. This IS a time to relax and enjoy yourself around coworkers and get to know them better (within reason). So, don’t be that flat tire talking about deadlines and budgets.
And, for the love of all that is good in the world…keep your hands off the poor sap roped into playing Santa. I still cringe, remembering that party from many years past, where Santa was the recipient of an impromptu and very inappropriate dance by one of our longest tenured Nurse Practitioners…as Santa’s wife of 25 years watched in horror with the rest of us. Which leads to my next tip…
Don’t flirt with your boss, coworkers or their dates. Again, if you wouldn’t (and you shouldn’t) do it at work, then don’t do it here.
Know your limits when it comes to alcohol and don’t let others talk you into breaking your “only # of drinks rule.” And go ahead and pre-program the number to a cab in your phone, just in case you take advantage of the bar a bit too much.
Don’t be the last person at the party…if the party continues on to a bar afterwards..stop and think about the wisdom of being a witness to or a part of inappropriate behavior with coworkers and your boss.
Yes, I’m being a bit of a Scrooge.
But if you want to attend a blowout party where everyone can say anything and flirting and continuous rounds of alcoholic shots are not only optional but required, trust me when I say that you don’t need to be having it with your coworkers.
So, bah humbug and y’all stay safe out there.
And keep my law firm number handy if you or any of your coworkers decide not to follow my sage advice in this column.