The office party can be hazardous to your career unless you understand that you are never truly off duty says Marsha Egan
The holiday season is looming, and we’re all getting ready to party, but while this time of year can be hazardous to our waistlines and our wallets, there’s one event in the social calendar that can be hazardous to our careers, too. The annual office party!
Sure, they can be fun. They can be a great time to build relationships with your colleagues. You can have many laughs. However, they can also be a proverbial minefield of potential slip-ups and career-damaging disasters.
You know how the words “off the record” may as well not exist when it comes to journalism? In the same way, business-related social events are never truly “off duty”. Understanding this simple truth can both save you a lot of grief and help you enjoy the office party for what it is.
Try and bear these tips in mind:
It’s a work party, not work!
Unless it really is an emergency (and I mean a real emergency), leave business when you leave your desk. The purpose of a party is to relax and socialize with your colleagues, not carry on the business of the day. Only talk shop if your boss opens the conversation. Otherwise, don’t!
It may be a party, but it’s an office party. Now is not the place for the t-shirt with the adult slogan or the low-cut minidress. A rough guide is that your attire should be broadly suitable for a regular work environment. For the women, this means leaving the skimpy or tight-fitting options at the back of the closet. Men should make sure their clothes are ironed and avoid overtly casual clothes such as jeans with holes. If the party is held outside the workplace, for example at a hotel or restaurant, then you can afford to be a little less buttoned down, but you must still bear in mind that it is still a business event. If in doubt, then it is perfectly reasonable to ask the boss or whoever is organizing the event what the dress code is – after all, every workplace is different. Remember, if the event is “plus one”, then the same goes for your date. Like it or not, he or she will be seen as a reflection of you.
Avoid grooming gaffes
As with standards of dress, the same grooming rules you would apply to a business scenario still apply for a holiday work party. There’s nothing wrong with getting into the festive spirit and relaxing a little, or using evening make-up for women if appropriate. However, now isn’t the time to experiment with avant-garde hairstyle choices – let your hair down by all means, but it’s probably best not to dye it purple! Finally, be moderate with the fragrance – if it enters the room before you do, you may have overdone it a bit.
The rumor mill is a friend to no one
Festive parties, particularly ones which are in the evening or which involve alcohol, are fuel for the company gossips. Gossip doesn’t need to be accurate to damage relationships and careers. Make sure you’re not the subject of their unwanted attention. No matter how innocent an action may be, be mindful of how things appear:
- Avoid long conversations in darkened corners.
- If there is dancing, avoid public displays of affection, or dancing “too close for comfort”.
- Don’t sit on people’s laps.
- Just because the mistletoe is there doesn’t mean you have to kiss the person under it!
- Socialize as widely as possible, and don’t spend your time with just one person.
Mind your manners!
This might sound obvious, but if it was, people wouldn’t get into so much hot water! A good guideline to follow is “If in doubt, don’t”. Think before you act and, if something might be seen as inappropriate or a bit risky, then don’t do it. It’s all about respecting your colleagues and having polite social interaction. If the function includes partners, then you are also responsible for the behavior of your guest. No boss wants to spend the evening getting prodded in the chest by an employee’s partner about office politics or practices.
Watch your alcohol intake
It’s easy to get carried away, especially with wine on the table, a free bar or where everyone is buying rounds. However, the most important thing you can do for your professional reputation at the office function is to watch what you drink. There’s nothing worse than the office drunk at the party, so don’t be that person! Many people’s personalities are altered when intoxicated, and rarely for the better. In addition, alcohol can lower inhibitions, giving people the impetus to say what they’ve been thinking but haven’t had the courage to voice. If you haven’t said it, there’s probably a reason why the holiday gathering isn’t the place to bring it up. Save the drinks for when you’re spending time with non-work friends.
And finally, don’t forget to have fun! Don’t let this list put you off having a good time with your colleagues. It may seem like a potential minefield, but the ultimate purpose of the company festive gathering is to have a good time together. So enjoy yourself in moderation, and you won’t regret it after the party’s over. You’ll have fun memories instead.