One thing you can count on during the holiday season is the obligatory office party. No matter what the size of the organization, there is always an effort to bring coworkers together for one more moment of merriment. Some people look forward to the chance to mix and mingle outside the confines of business and others would rather give up the annual bonus than have to spend precious personal time with the gang from work.
No matter which side of the issue you fall on, there are certain rules of behavior to follow at the office party if you want to have an office to go to when the party is over. When the invitation arrives for the holiday happening, make sure that you know the answers to these key questions:
- Do I have to go? Don't even consider NOT going unless you have a justifiable conflict. The office party is part of your job. Its purpose is to bring together coworkers and colleagues for a bit of camaraderie and some well-deserved recognition. If this is not your idea of a great time, then consider it work, put on your best attitude and go.
- Do I need to know who will be there? Find out who else has been invited. If you assume that it is just your department or your work team, you may not be prepared to interact with everyone else. Any sort of mixing and mingling event requires advance preparation. Knowing who will be there and having an idea what to talk about is critical to a successful venture.
- How long should I stay? Stay long enough to speak to everyone there - assuming there is not a cast of thousands. With a large crowd, interact with as many people as possible, especially the key people like your boss. You need to remain at the event for at least an hour or you will give the impression that your appearance was merely obligatory.
If you are having a good time check your watch. Leave before the party time has elapsed. If your invitation was from 5-7, don't stay one minute past 7 o'clock. You don't want to be thought of as part of the clean-up crew unless that is the next job you want to have.
- What should I wear? Remember that this is the office party, and keep your guard up when deciding how to dress. If the event is immediately after work, your business attire is appropriate.
If the party is later in the evening or on the weekend your choices will vary depending on the type of event. If you aren't certain what to wear, check directly with your host or with coworkers whose taste and judgment you trust. Make sure that what you wear reflects well on you professionally. This is not the time to show up in your most revealing outfit.
- Is my family invited? Not unless it says so on the invitation. Take your children only if the invitation reads "and family". Otherwise leave them at home with the babysitter. Unless your spouse is mentioned or the envelope is addressed to you "and guest" you and only you should show up.
- What will I talk about? It's not what you have to say; it's about what other people have to say. The trick is allowing other people to talk. If you plan ahead with some good open- ended questions, you won't have any trouble with conversations. The best conversation starter begins with "tell me about..." You can then continue with "That's interesting. Tell me more."
- How much should I eat and drink? Whether the event is a reception with light hors d'oeuvres or a full buffet, keep
moderation in mind. You are not there for the food. You are there for the fellowship so resist the urge to fill your plate to overflowing. The person who goes through the line first and takes all the food will not be remembered fondly or invited back.
Drink in moderation. Alcohol and business rarely mix well so limit how much you consume. This is an opportunity to build business relationships and to promote yourself. You will want to keep your wits about you because your after-hours conduct will have a direct bearing on your business future.
- Should I take a gift? Unless you are asked to bring something to exchange with your coworkers, the only appropriate gift is one for your host. While flowers and wine are popular items, approach both with caution. Take wine or liquor only if you are certain that your host drinks alcoholic beverages. If wine is being served with a meal, ask ahead of time what kind of wine would be appropriate. Otherwise make it clear that you expect your host to save the wine for a later occasion.
With flowers, take cut flowers already arranged in a vase that does not have to be returned. The host should not have to scurry about to locate a vase and arrange flowers while there are guests to be entertained. Gift baskets with jams, jellies, or gourmet food items that can be stored and served later are the best choices.
- Is it all right to dance on the table with a lampshade on my head? Not at the office party, no matter how well it fits or what a great little dancer you are. Enjoy yourself, but keep in mind that it is still about business and make sure that you don't have TOO much fun.
The holiday party is not the time to let down your hair or throw caution to the wind. What you say and do on Saturday night will live on for a long time in the minds of your associates. If your behavior is inappropriate, your career may be shorter than everyone else's memory. If you conduct yourself with charm and savvy, your rise up the ladder of success could pick up speed.
(c) 2004, Lydia Ramsey. All rights in all media reserved.