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An Office Holiday Party Survival Guide

BY: Rebecca Loeser | Feb 8, 2016

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The office holiday party is an annual rite of passage for almost every American worker. But even though it’s meant to inspire good cheer and camaraderie, the office party can fill people with dread instead. How do you navigate all those free cocktails, free snacks, and awkward conversations with the company CEO without tarnishing your workplace reputation?

Well, luckily we came up with a list of party-etiquette dos and don’ts to get you through your next office shindig unscathed.


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Don't be "that guy." You know the guy I'm talking about. He slides up to the boxed wine at 4:59 p.m., refills his mug eight times, shouts, "Seriously, how have we never hung out outside of work?!", then naps it off in the cafeteria until the cleaning staff needs to roll him over so they can mop.

In his mind, he's channeling Don Draper. In reality, he's slurring the lyrics to “Frosty the Snowman” over and over again.

Look, the office holiday party is a beautiful thing. It invites you to learn more about your coworkers and to cultivate well-rounded relationships with the people you see each day. Unfortunately, a dose of booze can make the borders of work-you and you-you more malleable, and getting inappropriately drunk in the office is a major faux pas—one that folks will probably remember well into the new year. So sip consciously. Besides, who wants a hangover at 7 p.m.?

Do label hard drinks clearly. Are there two types of cider? If so, label them with easy-to-read signage. For health reasons, religious reasons, driving-home reasons, and more, some people prefer to skip the spirits.

Unfortunately, a dose of booze can make the borders of work-you and you-you more malleable, and getting inappropriately drunk in the office is a major faux pas.

Don't subject fully grown adults to peer pressure. This is a combination of the above two items. Even pretend outrage ("Really? No beer? Lame!") can put guests in an uncomfortable position, so let the liquids go and talk about the cookies or your dreidel-spinning techniques instead.


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Do plan your potluck. Consider fridge space, bumpy train commutes, and the dietary restrictions of your coworkers.

Do wash your dishes. Everyone loved your peppermint-chocolate cupcakes. But those candy cane crumbs clinging to the bottom of your Tupperware? They're not going to look so good on Monday morning. Clean your stuff, or bring it home—no matter how sleepy you are from those two cups of mulled cider.

Don't insult the cooks (also known as your coworkers). This seems like a no-brainer. If you don't like the caramel corn, or your HR manager mistook salt for sugar when baking the cookies, be discreet. You have to work with these people, remember?


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Don't insult the DJ. Picking music for a diverse group of people is a tricky task. You might think you're making fun of a Pandora station or a song that was chosen ironically, only to find out that you're ragging on your boss's carefully curated playlist. With that said …

Don't play Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." It's just awful.

Social Media

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Don't post pics without permission. People have varying comfort levels when it comes to this, especially if there's a generation gap in the office. Ask permission before you post someone's likeness. Ask twice if they're double-fisting glögg in front of the company logo.

Do suggest a hashtag. Not only is this a fun way to aggregate all the party pictures in real time, but it can also help people find (and vet) public pictures of themselves.

Do brag about your job. Why not? You work hard, and you do it at a place that values it. Some of your online followers may roll their eyes, but there's nothing wrong with a quick caption that says, "Full of cupcakes. My job rules!"

Ps & Qs

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Do say “thank you.” Even the most seemingly simple parties require rigorous, invisible work on the back end to plan. Find out who's responsible and express your gratitude. After all, that mistletoe didn’t hang itself.

Do help clean up. If the party's winding down and you're still there, you may as well lighten the load for your generous hosts.

The holidays aren’t about challenging each other’s beliefs. They’re about challenging one’s own stomach with way too many snickerdoodles.

Do tip well. If the party takes place off site or your company has brought in a bartender, tip generously. It's the holiday season, and the caterers probably had to sit through just as many slurred renditions of “Frosty the Snowman” as you did. (Is he still asleep in the cafeteria, by the way? He is? OK, just leave him for now.)

Don't bring religion into it. The holidays are rooted in spirituality, but in multicultural and secular spheres, December is more about friendship, generosity, and refined sugar. So decorate in a way that acknowledges more than one holiday. Say "Happy holidays" when you don't know a person's background. And genuinely wish them well in their out-of-office endeavors, whether their plans involve church, synagogue, or watching the Star Wars Holiday Special on repeat. The holidays aren’t about challenging each other’s beliefs. They’re about challenging one’s own stomach with way too many snickerdoodles.

Of course, in a religious organization or a smaller workplace where everyone knows one another well, it might be appropriate to ignore or bend this rule. Use your best judgement.

Showing Up

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Do, if you can. Yeah, you'll be at the office till 7 or 8 on a Friday. And yeah, you might have to choke down some nog or make small talk with your department's most notorious CrossFit evangelizer. But office parties can be really fun, and it’s the best way to show that you appreciate the party planners' hard work. So go for at least 20 minutes—you may be surprised at how much you laugh or how many new friends you make. At the very least, you'll get a free sugar high that'll carry you through Sunday.

Don’t, if you're sick. Yeah, it stinks to miss Wanda's signature double-frosted sugar cookies and the weird thrill of pumping a keg 3 feet from your desk. But you know what stinks even more? Missing your friends' and families' holiday parties because someone sneezed on the karaoke machine.

Don't reply-all on your email RSVP. Unless it's to tell everyone that they're not allowed to play "Wonderful Christmastime."

Do invite me. It's the polite thing to do.

Images: Punch photo by Timothy Burkhart, Groupon. Tips, Not Bribes photo by Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon. Christmas sugar cookies with redhots by Flickr user OakleyOriginals under CC 2.0.

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