At the least, excess celebration and etiquette mistakes at office holiday parties can become fodder for next-day stories. At worst, they can be devastating to one’s professional career. Follow these guidelines to navigate the party like a pro.
• Do RSVP: Be sure to respond to an invitation within 48 hours. As much as you may not wish to attend, you must. Failing to go to the annual holiday party sends a negative message. Executives and upper management will take note.
• Do arrive and depart on time: Arriving “fashionably late” is inappropriate. Plan to arrive within the first 15 to 20 minutes.
• Don’t bring an extra guest: Know the company policy on guests, or whether the event is employees-only or has a plus-one. Discreetly check ahead of time to determine whether spouses or dates are welcome.
• Do greet hosts, colleagues and party planners: Thank and shake hands with your hosts and the party planners. Chat briefly and compliment an aspect of the party that you sincerely enjoyed, such as the catering, music or décor. Limit this to five minutes and move on.
• Don’t hide in the corner: This is a good time to become visible to your organization’s leadership. Resist the urge to spend the entire evening with your office buddies — get in the spirit and mingle with people from other departments.
• Don’t give a monologue: Keep business talk to a minimum. Instead, get to know colleagues better on a personal level. Stay with topics such as travel, children, sports, pets and movies. Avoid politics, sex and religion.
• Don’t wear that! Leave short, tight or revealing clothing in the closet. Use good taste to select an elegant outfit and leave the over-the-knee-boots for purely social events. Creating a professional image is hard work; don’t undermine it in one evening.
• Don’t binge at the buffet: You were not invited because the hosts thought you were hungry. Be considerate of others, keep your hands clean and avoid a mouth full of hors d’oeuvres. Don’t walk around with a full plate, do not double dip or eat over the chafing dish, and don’t forget to properly discard toothpicks, napkins and plates.
• Don’t be Monday’s gossip: Alcohol and a loose tongue may add up to a regretful Monday morning equation. Consider tea, club soda or water. If you drink, do so responsibly. And carry your refreshment in your left hand, leaving your right free for handshaking.
• Don’t clap for yourself: The CEO may offer a toast during the evening. Raise your glass when the host does. Do not touch your glass with others; it is unnecessary and distracting. If you are honored with a toast, stand and accept it gracefully. Refrain from drinking to a toast offered in your honor. Be sure to stand and make a toast to the person who toasted you, thanking them for the recognition.
Sharon Schweitzer is founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide.