Once upon a time in a rented hotel ballroom far, far away, the perfect holiday party was thrown. Different department teams mingled merrily, and even the introverts felt perfectly at ease. Nobody got wasted, and everyone got along perfectly.
But since you don’t work at Imaginary Office, Inc., you have to deal with a real-life holiday party—and it can be tricky. This quick list of do’s and don’ts will help you navigate the festivities like the classy employee you are (maybe attempting to be).
DO dress appropriately
"If your office is having a formal event, dress up,” says Robin Schooling, vice president of human resources for Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge. “If it's a casual potluck in the break room, dress how you would for work. If the theme is ugly sweaters, find the ugliest work-appropriate sweater you can, and wear it with pride."
When deciding what to wear to a holiday party, the important thing is to gauge what your office is doing and follow suit. Don't be the person wearing a cocktail dress or ascot to the lunch hour Secret Santa gift swap. You will never live that down.
DON’T be a Grinch
In every office, there are some who will approach an office holiday party like they’re too cool for school. They skip it, or worse, they attend and then complain about how they spend enough time with their co-workers already. Nobody likes a party pooper.
Yes, you need to attend the office holiday party—it’s a work event, says Richie Frieman, manners and etiquette coach and author of REPLY ALL...and Other Ways to Tank Your Career: A Guide to Workplace Etiquette in Owings Mills, Maryland.
Not only is it disrespectful and rude to the organizers if you publicly complain, but you’re also missing an opportunity. “Everyone is nicer during the holidays,” Frieman says, “and an office holiday party is your chance to create greater bonds”—which can lead to greater assignments, which can lead to greater paychecks.
DO make a point to speak with someone new
Take some time to network at your office holiday party. Hop outside of your silo and hang out with a different department. By making an effort to speak to someone outside your circle, you can grow your sphere of influence, says Colin Exelby, president of Celestial Wealth Management in Towson, Maryland. “You’ll expand your network and appear as a team player,” he says. “You never know how that individual might be able to help you in the future.”
DON’T arrive too early or stay too late
If you're fretting over when you should arrive at the holiday party, a good rule of thumb is to limit your appearance (and exit) to within the official times for the party. This will help you avoid all kinds of potential awkwardness.
Be respectful of everyone’s time—the organizers don’t want people there while they’re setting up or tearing down. Exelby suggests arriving about 20 minutes after the start time and leaving at least 20 minutes before the formal end time so you can say goodbye and wrap everything up on a high note.
DO talk about something besides work
Your co-workers are more than just humans that you work with; they’re also humans that have families, hobbies, and causes they care about—just like you do. It’s hard to have a good time when you’re discussing the finer points of your job responsibilities, so avoid work topics as conversation starters. “Instead, connect with co-workers as people,” Friedman says. “That goes very far in business, and management can see you have a social side to you.”
As important as it is to relax, have a good time and share the more social side of yourself at the holiday party, you’re still in a professional environment, so keep your decorum intact. Translation: Know your drink limit, and stick to it like glue. "Don't turn yourself into water cooler fodder for the next day," Schooling says.
DO say thank-you
Before you leave your holiday office party, be sure to show gratitude for your employer’s generosity. Planning a party, regardless of size, is no easy feat. Find your boss and the party organizers, and thank them for the festivities. This tiny gesture can go a long way in helping you stand out from the crowd.
For a few more pointers from Monster’s career expert Vicki Salemi, check out our podcast—which also includes an interview with Santa!
By Dominique Rodgers
This article first appeared in Monsters.