Mixing up booze, holiday stress, and your boss can be a recipe for disaster.
That’s why office holiday parties are such a minefield of awkward situations. So when you’re hanging out at this year’s festivities, it’s crucial to remember that you’re pretty much still at work, even if it’s a party. You need to be able to loosen up and enjoy yourself without looking like a complete fool (or jeopardizing your job).
“In a social setting like a holiday party, it can feel more permissible to talk about subjects you’d normally save for behind closed doors, like salaries, frustrations with colleagues, or other confidential matters,”says management consulting firm Right Management executive vice president Bram Lowsky. “Instead, save those types of conversations for another time and use the easy-going atmosphere to make new connections and relate to others on a personal level. Holiday events provide an opportunity to network and make new connections. Don’t forget — opportunity could be where you least expect to find it.”
Business Insider spoke with HR and career professionals to highlight 11 things you’ll want to avoid saying at your office holiday party:
1. ‘Could you introduce me to your daughter/son?’
Avoid hitting on your coworkers’ relatives. It’s awkward and it won’t end well. “There is nothing like your colleague asking to be introduced to your daughter that really makes the night and subsequent days at work uncomfortable,” says Rebecca Henderson, global group president of HR firm Randstad Sourceright.
2. ‘I never realised you had such an amazing body — the way you dress in the office is far too conservative’
TriNet director of human capital services Jackie Breslin says, “Give a compliment that is appropriate and won’t make a coworker uncomfortable. A fair number of workplace complaints regarding inappropriate conduct have an origin at the company holiday party.”
CEO of HR consulting firm OperationsInc. David Lewis agrees, noting that even statements as simple as “You look great” can come across as creepy. “Avoid anything that suggests anything sexual in lieu of the word ‘great,'” he says.
On a similar note, the holiday party is usually not the time to confess your office crush. You’re neither Jim nor Pam from “The Office.” Sorry.
“Don’t use the holiday party as an excuse to share your intimate feelings with a colleague,” says TopResume career advice expert Amanda Augustine. If your feelings aren’t reciprocated, this could backfire in a big way.
Basically, don’t forget that you’re still at work.
3. ‘Can I drive you home?’
If you and your coworkers have been drinking, it’s important to make sure your coworkers are safe to drive. However, if you’re not sure about a colleague’s level of intoxication, you don’t want to sound overbearing or off putting.
“Instead, try, ‘I hate driving home after a party, don’t you? Let’s call it a night and call an Uber,'” says “All the Leader You Can Be” author Suzanne Bates.”If alcohol is served, the one thing you don’t want to say is ‘Can I drive you home?'”
4. ‘I’m so drunk right now!’
Speaking of alcohol, don’t be that person at the party. You know, the one who drinks too much and inflicts terrible karaoke or tearful confessions or some other form of sloppy drama on everyone else.
Augustine says that it’s important to have the right mindset. “It’s one thing to have a drink or two throughout the evening,” she says. “It’s another thing to make it your mission to get drunk at the company party. This event is a unique opportunity to network with colleagues outside the office in a fun, relaxed environment. Don’t drink too much and say things you’ll regret the next day.”
5. ‘Have you heard …’
“Don’t engage in gossip or feed the rumour mill at the office party,” staffing agency Robert Half senior executive director Paul McDonald says.”It’s not the time or place.”
Unless it’s very innocuous, spreading office gossip is just rude and unprofessional.
“Avoid mean-girl gossip and instead engage with colleagues about their lives outside the cubicle,” Augustine says.
6. ‘I hate my boss / I’m putting in my notice’
Yikes. The holiday party is neither the time nor the place to whine about your supervisor or announce that you’re quitting. Save serious complaints and news for a regular workday.
“Holiday parties should not be used as a chance to vent or complain — no one likes a Grinch!” Adecco Staffing senior vice president Amy Glaser says. “Plus, it’s very unprofessional. What’s more, you should be careful not to divulge sensitive information or start conversations that should be had in a highly professional setting. For example, if there is a coworker you aren’t getting along with, or if you have a big career move coming up, recognise that a holiday party is not the appropriate environment to share such information with your peers or your supervisor.”
Even if you’re just mouthing off to your work buddies, your words can have serious consequences down the road.
7. ‘Let’s just hang out by the food’
“Holiday parties can feel overwhelming, especially if you work in a large office, but resist the urge to only hang out with the people you spend most of your time with during the work day,” says Glaser. “Make the effort to mix and mingle — it will make the party more fun and you never know what doors might be opened down the line by the people you meet. Additionally, hanging out with only a select group of people could make you seem cliquish or disengaged.”
8. ‘Did you get your bonus yet?’
Avoid talking about money at all costs.
McDonald notes that bonuses can be a particularly sensitive topic. In all likelihood, not everyone in your company is getting a bonus this year. Avoid compensation-related talk in general.
9. ‘So, what do you think about the president-elect?’
Augustine and McDonald both stress avoiding the subject of politics — especially in this contentious climate. It’s a surefire way to start an uncomfortable argument.
10. ‘Let’s spike the eggnog’
Deloitte’s Leadership Center for Clients National Director Kim Christfort says there are certain behaviours that can tick off your coworkers.
“At work parties, while there are many things to avoid doing in general (drunken karaoke being high on that list in my experience), there are also things that are particularly unappealing to specific individuals based on their different working styles,” she told Business Insider. “So don’t say ‘shall we spike that eggnog’ to someone who doesn’t like to break the rules.”
11. ‘Everything’s going pretty well in our department …’
Many of the professionals Business Insider spoke to agreed on one thing: Work is a major topic to be avoided at the office holiday party.
Maestro Health CEO Rob Butler says to treat the festivities as a chance to get to know colleagues on a more personal level. “Encourage your employees to turn off ‘work-mode’ and learn about their coworkers’ passions and hobbies,” he says.
It’s also important to warn your guests not to bring up jarring questions about work. As SAP software company executive vice president of HR Brigette McInnis-Day says, “Oftentimes, I find that employees’ spouses or partners will ask me about opportunities for advancement or raise issues of concern at a holiday party. For example they will ask about bonus achievements, stock options success, reorganization, or if their loved one will get a new opportunity they applied for and if they didn’t get it, give feedback on how displeased they are. This is always uncomfortable, but even more so during a fun social event which is meant for people to relax and connect.”
Senior vice president at career network Beyond Joe Weinlick explains that discussions revolving around work can make people feel uncomfortable.”Never ask, ‘When will that project be finished?’ at your holiday party. The holiday party should be a fun event free from the stress of the job. Save shop talk for when you’re back in the office.”
So, if you can’t talk about work with your colleagues, what should you talk about? LinkedIn career expert Catherine Fisher recommends doing some research in order to get the conversation flowing. “If small talk isn’t your strong suit, feel free to look up your colleagues’ recent activity on LinkedIn for potential topics of conversation.”