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How to Survive Your Office Party

Dec 31, 2012

It's that time of year again: deck the halls, light the candles and dread the company office party. While holiday parties are generally considered a perk for employees, a surprisingly large number of workers don't enjoy them. Luckily, we've got tips to help you make it through these annual events, and even turn them to your advantage.

Employer-sponsored holiday parties are intended to help employees get to know one another and bond in a relaxed, non-work setting. While many companies have drawn down on expenditures for holiday parties - turning them into breakfasts or lunches instead of after-work events, for example - it's still probable that at some point you'll find yourself making small-talk with co-workers you ordinarily hide from the rest of the year.

The holiday office party may have a bad rap thanks to popular culture and an overabundance of horror stories: everybody knows somebody who knows somebody else who embarrassed himself in front of his boss or coworkers at the annual company get-together. Luckily, these instances are rare.

As CBS MoneyWatch puts it, "If you lose your job over something you do at a holiday party, either the job wasn't worth having or you've got bigger problems than an article can fix."

So how do you turn a holiday party into an enjoyable experience that might actually double as an opportunity? The following are a few practical tips.

For starters, attend the party. While it may be tempting to skip the event, doing so is a bit like informing your coworkers that they're not worth socializing with, and it sends a message to management that you're a loner who can't play well with others.

Set an alcohol limit for yourself. Many companies today choose to sponsor events that don't involve alcohol - let's face it, "open bar" isn't a cheap perk - but for those that do include drinking, employees should understand their limits in advance. By all means have a drink or two if it will help you get into the party spirit, but getting tipsy can lead to the kind of "sharing" that can damage, or at least dent, your career. For better or worse, annoying or drunken behavior at a holiday office party will stick with you for years. It may even become the stuff of office legends (and not in a good way).

Take an extra dose of caution if it's a new job. Holiday parties vary depending on the industry, the company and your department's work environment. While the CEO of your previous firm may have been a fun-loving person who enjoyed being chased around by employees eager to slap a pair of fuzzy reindeer antlers on his head, this may not be the case in your new job. If you're unsure of the tone of the party and the office culture in advance, ask a coworker for behavior tips and take cues from others.

Make sure you go to work the next day. It's conventional wisdom that on the day after the office holiday party, gossip will inevitably focus on those who don't show up for work. Your employer sponsored the event to foster camaraderie, not to lower employee productivity. Your absence will most certainly be noted, and your employees may assume your behavior was worse than it was.

Dress festively, but don't overdo it. While it's fine and even recommended to add a festive touch to your clothing for the event, avoid going overboard in a way that could harm your professional image. Dressing far out of character or very provocatively will do your career no favors. In other words, leave the elf costume in your closet.

Socialize with upper management. While stopping by the CEO's office to chat may not normally be a part of your workday, it's important to remember that holiday parties are made for inter-rank schmoozing. Use the opportunity to put your name and face in front of company leaders.

Leave your smartphone in your pocket or purse. Anyone who has recently attended an office holiday party will note that at least half the people in the room spend most of their time staring at a screen, reading or writing text messages or emails. The point of a holiday party is to socialize and network with the people you see every day. Shut the phone off or leave it in the car if it's too much of a temptation.

Finally, keep work talk to a minimum. The party isn't an excuse for you to catch up on one-on-one meetings, and overdoing the shop talk will earn you a reputation as a bore.