5 Etiquette Tips For Holiday Office Parties

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The holiday season can be a mixed blessing for many administrative professionals. Aside from the normal stress incurred while juggling family and business demands, there are the office parties. These annual gatherings have taken on almost mythic proportions. They’re seen as events where careers can climb or crumble. No wonder so many people get uptight when the party invitations arrive.

I’ve surveyed some of what etiquette experts have to say about office parties during the holidays. Here’s a sample of their advice and links for more tips:

Don’t skim the invitation: A surprising number of people don’t bother to read the party invitation, according to Ottawa-based etiquette expert Julie Blaise Comeau. That can lead to faux pas like bringing a guest when they aren’t invited. Taking a few extra minutes to gather all the details can save a lot of embarrassment later.

Humor is your friend: It’s a good idea to prepare some funny responses to defuse potentially awkward situations at office parties, according to Erik Kolbell, author of Lifescripts For Family And Friends: What To Say In 101 Of Life's Most Troubling And Uncomfortable Situations. If the boss asks you to dance, politely decline and suggest that your last dance partner ended up in a cast. Humor gets you out of the line of fire while maintaining good graces with your co-workers. Learn to deploy it wisely.

Eat, drink and be sober: Booze is probably responsible for more office-party incidents during the holidays than any other culprit. One of the most universal rules of etiquette is to minimize the liquor. But office culture can sometimes make that tough. If you work with a bunch of heavy drinkers, sippers and abstainers can be perceived as killjoys. Boston Globe etiquette columnist Robin Abrahams suggests ordering a rum and Coke or gin and tonic as your first drink. After that, you can safely order soft drinks without anyone being aware of how little you’re actually imbibing.

Mix freely and leave early: Sticking to your usual office crew at holiday parties is a bad idea, according to business etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey. Stay long enough to circulate and spend at least a few minutes with all the other guests. Then, be sure to make an exit before the official end of the party. Just as in show business, “leave ‘em wanting more.”

Be thankful: Don’t forget that holiday parties don’t happen by magic. Somebody had to organize it, most likely on their unpaid spare time. Venerable etiquette expert Emily Post urges office party guests to show their gratitude to the hosts. This small gesture can pay big dividends down the road the next time you need a favor at work.

I’ll end by adding that, to me, holiday parties are a great time to remember that we’re all in this together. Co-workers can often become pigeon-holed. She’s the woman who gets angry when expense reports aren’t turned in on time. He’s the guy who doesn’t know how to run the copy machine. Social gatherings can be an opportunity to reconnect and wash away some of those often-unfair characterizations. You may discover that you share a passion for some hobby or vacation spot. You may find that the Clark Kent in the next cubicle is a super hero who spends hours helping other people in their off time. So when it comes time for your next office party, follow a few simple rules, have fun and get into the graceful spirit of the season.