IT'S THAT TIME
again. You've taken out the Rudolf mug your co-workers gave you last year, bought yet another pen holder for this year's Secret Santa and decorated your cubicle with Christmas lights.
Just one item left on your to-do list: survive the office holiday party.
We've all heard the horror stories: Joe from accounting who drunkenly hit on his married boss and Linda from marketing who downed a couple of glasses of wine and loudly demanded companywide raises from the chief executive officer.
Fact is, the office holiday party is the one occasion of the year where work and fun overlap a disturbing combination that leaves most employees bewildered about how to behave. Suddenly, workers aren't sure of what to wear, what to talk about and when to leave. Add alcohol to the mix, and it's a career-threatening humiliation just waiting to happen.
Below are nine do's and don'ts from career and etiquette experts:
1. Do: Attend
Contrary to what you might like to believe, your office holiday party is not an optional event. "Even if you hate these things, it's a good idea to put in an appearance," says Marjorie Brody, an executive coach and author of "Professional Impressions...Etiquette for Everyone, Every Day." "It shows you're part of the team."
2. Do: Think of It as Work, Not Play
"People should understand [the office holiday party] is a business event," Brody says. "Would you go to a business event and get drunk, grope people and spend the whole night talking to your buddies?" Assuming your answer is no, the same rules should apply to the holiday party.
3. Do: Leave the Sequined Tube Top at Home
Like any other business event, you want to dress professionally. "Don't wear anything you wouldn't wear the following day if you had to make a presentation in front of senior management," says Andrea Nierenberg, a New York-based business-relationship consultant and author of "Million Dollar Networking."
Nierenberg recalls a client's office party last year where one of the midlevel managers went into the ladies room and changed into a spaghetti-strap dress. "Everyone else was wearing their work clothes," she says. "She looked idiotic." While the woman wasn't fired, she was the topic of some office snickers.
Nierenberg's advice: For women, keep bare skin to a minimum. For men, make sure everything is buttoned and zippered. If it's your first holiday party at your job, be sure to ask colleagues about the dress code ahead of time.
4. Do: Drink Moderately
Overindulging on the booze is the No. 1 source of office-party problems. To be sure, imbibing copious amounts of alcohol is understandable: After all, it's an open bar, you're fighting boredom, it's the end of yet another year and did we mention it's an open bar?
But as tempting as it may be, resist. "If you're a one-drink drinker, stick with one drink," Brody says. "If you're a two-drink drinker, stick with one drink. If you're a three-drink drinker, stick with one drink. The minute you start feeling the alcohol, you may not be handling [the situation] as well as you typically do."
If you feel tempted to slip, consider that anything you do at the party will be remembered. "There's no such thing as a free open bar," says Susan RoAne, a communications expert and author of "How to Work a Room." "It may be an open bar and you may think the drinks are free, but if you drink freely, you may pay well beyond the cost of the drinks."
5. Don't: Pig Out
Don't pile up your plate like this is your last meal. Stuffing one's face is not just a sore sight it makes it hard to talk. "Think of it as hors d'oeuvres," Nierenberg says. "It's not a time to eat and drink." When grabbing a quick bite, however, stand close to the table so you can put your plate down and shake hands.
6. Don't: Dazzle Your Co-Workers With Your Lambada
Just because there's a DJ playing some funky music doesn't mean you need to show off your best dance moves. In particular, don't practice your dirty dancing techniques on a co-worker. "I was at this party where a manager danced with an underling," Brody says. "And he was married. People talked about it all night."
7. Do: Come Prepared to Schmooze
The office party is an excellent opportunity to socialize with co-workers you don't normally see people from other departments, managers, and, of course, the boss. But don't forget: It's a party, after all, so don't just talk business, says Brody. You don't want everyone thinking you're the office bore. "It's time to get to know people, be festive, have fun."
If small talk doesn't come easy to you, prepare, says RoAne. Before you go to the party, read the newspaper, know what's going on in the sports world, and what new books and movies are out. "I know someone who reads People magazine every time before going to a party," she says.
An easy tactic? Observe people. "If someone's wearing Santa Clauses on his tie, it's pretty much permission to talk to him," RoAnne says. "If a woman is wearing a beautiful pin or broach, that's a great ice breaker."
Avoid sensitive topics like politics and religion. Holiday plans are always an easy topic, though don't rush to wish everyone a "Merry Christmas" they may be celebrating Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.
8. Do: Prep Your Spouse
If spouses are invited, make sure you tell your significant other the drill. "Remember that they are representing you," says Brody. Your spouse should know the names of your closest co-workers, as well as those of senior management. If there's company gossip or news you've let slip at home that you shouldn't have, make sure your spouse knows not to mention it.
9. Do: Exit Graciously
Even if the party is a total bore, stay for at least an hour or hour and a half. Before you leave, thank the person who organized the party and the one who approved the expenditure, RoAnne says. "These are the little things we call niceties, and when companies are trying to decide whether they can trust you with a client and promote you, having this scope of character is really important."