15 things you should never do at the office holiday party

Samantha Lee/Business InsiderKeep it together.
  • Holiday parties are a great opportunity to spend time with coworkers, but you still have to be on your best behaviour.
  • The choices people make at the party carry over to the workday, and can impact their careers.
  • That doesn’t mean you should skip the party – make an appearance, talk to your coworkers, and drink responsibly.

‘Tis the season for office holiday parties, which can be fun and festive if everyone is on their best behaviour – or disastrous when too many people decide to let loose.

Unfortunately, the latter happens far too often.

“People need to remember that although the holiday party is a time to celebrate, this activity is still a business event and how you behave matters,” says Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert and the author of “The Essentials of Business Etiquette.”

“People have said and done all sorts of inappropriate things that have impacted their career by not following simple etiquette rules,” she adds. “For example, it is important to stay sober. One young man got drunk at his holiday party, cursed out his boss, and got fired on the spot. The next day he couldn’t understand why his badge didn’t work. He had no recollection of the previous evening’s events.”

According to a new CareerBuilder survey, a whopping 69% of employers say they will throw a holiday party this year. If your company is one of them and you want to keep your job and reputation intact, here are some simple etiquette rules to follow:

Don’t skip it

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Unless you already have other plans that night that you absolutely cannot miss or change, show up to the office holiday party.

“You may not want to go,” says Pachter, but it’s important that you show your commitment to the company.

“Your absence will be noticed, and most likely, noted by your boss and other higher ups,” she adds.

Don’t be the first to leave

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Obviously someone has to be the first to leave. But for the same reason that you shouldn’t skip the holiday party altogether – it’s good for your career to show your face – you should avoid being the first one saying their goodbyes.

Don’t forget to prepare your guest or significant other

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Many times significant others are included or you’re allowed to bring a guest.

Let them know about appropriate dress and topics of conversation to stay away from, says Pachter. Also, make sure your guest follows all the rules: “His or her behaviour will reflect on you.”

Don’t dress inappropriately

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The party may not take place during traditional work hours – but that doesn’t mean you should dress like you’re going to a nightclub.

You should wear clothing you wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear to work, but, since it’s a special occasion, it’s fine to take it up one notch – just don’t go over the top.

“It is a party, but your attire needs to be suitable for a business event, not a nightclub. Don’t wear anything that is too short, too tight, too low, or too anything,” advises Pachter.

Also, if you normally wear a suit to work, don’t show up to the office party in jeans and a T-shirt – or a Hello Kitty onesie.

Don’t look bored

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Watch your body language. Appearing bored or like you’d rather be anywhere else is just as bad as not showing up.

“Don’t frown, slouch, cross arms, or yawn. You never know who might be observing you,” she says.

Don’t be antisocial

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Even if you despise your coworkers – hopefully you don’t, but if you do, it might be time to assess your situation – or if you’re new and don’t know many people, don’t sit in a corner alone or keep your eyes glued to your phone the whole night.

“Schmooze,” Pachter suggests. “Talk to people you know and don’t know. The party is an opportunity to meet people. Don’t spend your time tweeting or texting. Make sure you mingle.”

Don’t forget to eat

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Sometimes employees skip the food and head straight to the bar because they’re excited to drink with their colleagues, or they assume the catered hors d’oeuvres aren’t worth the calories.

If you do decide to drink alcohol – even if you limit yourself to one glass or two glasses of wine – it’s important that you eat something.

Don’t get drunk

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This is an important rule – yet so many people fail to follow it.

“You don’t have to drink, but if you do, stay sober,” says Pachter. “It’s easy to do something outrageous when you have had too much to drink.”

She suggests setting a limit for yourself before going to the party and sticking to it. “It is much easier to limit your intake that way,” she says. “Or, order a drink you don’t like and sip it slowly all night.”

Don’t gossip or bad mouth your colleagues

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When you speak to colleagues, keep the conversation upbeat and positive.

Complaining about the company or your boss will bring the mood down, and gossiping about coworkers can get you into trouble.

It’s easy to do all of the above when you’ve been drinking – so be careful.

Don’t flirt

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This is not the time to hit on your boss, or his spouse.

Sometimes liquid courage gets the best of us – so stay away from alcohol if you don’t think you can control yourself while under the influence.

Don’t drone on about work

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While maybe your holiday party takes place at the office this year, and at the very least it involves a bunch of people you work with, it’s the last place you should be talking shop.

Save your project updates for the Monday meeting.

Don’t post photos or comments that could get you in trouble

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Avoid posting negative comments to social media about how “lame” the party was, or how much the food “sucked.” Also, do not post photos of your colleagues taking shots or engaging in other inappropriate behaviour.

Don’t go in without a plan

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A good way to avoid defaulting to gossip or work talk is having a “talking plan.” As Voltaire said, “One always speaks badly when one has nothing to say.”

If you’re hoping to chat with a new coworker, think of a few icebreaker questions you can ask.

Did you decide ahead of time not to drink? Know what you want to say when people ask you “Why not?” Or perhaps you’re planning to chat with the CEO. Think of a few smart conversation starters.

“Don’t just talk business. Be up-to-date on current events and happenings in your community. Read the newspaper, your online news sites, news magazines, company publications, and your professional journals,” Pachter says.

Don’t make a fool of yourself

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Some people forget that the office holiday party is a work-related event and completely cut loose.

It’s OK to have fun and celebrate the season – but use your head and think about the consequences of your actions.

Hot sauce shooting contests are inadvisable. And maybe save your saucy rendition of “Santa, Baby” for karaoke with friends – or just your significant other.

Don’t forget to acknowledge those who planned the party

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Make sure you say “goodbye” and “thank you” to the host or party organisers, says Pachter.

If you’re not sure who was involved, or you don’t see them at the party, follow up with an email the next day.

Jacquelyn Smith contributed to an earlier version of this article.

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