’Tis the season to navigate holiday work parties. They don’t always go as planned. Take Bryce. He wanted to embrace the cliché when he put a lampshade on his head. It made his colleagues laugh. Only, once he had another drink, he forgot altogether about taking the lampshade off. In the end, the joke was on him—literally. If you don’t want to be a Bryce, try these suggestions for how to handle parties for your colleagues or clients with professionalism.
For the past few years, companies have tried virtual parties. In 2023, the in-person company holiday event is making a comeback. That means you might need to brush up on how to attend the workplace party without undermining your professional reputation.
1. Consider the context
Yes, you’ve been invited to a party to celebrate a fun or festive occasion. Still, you don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this is a social activity where you’re mixing with work colleagues and managers. You’ll need to be responsible throughout.
Consider why your workplace is hosting a gathering in the first place. They probably want to encourage employee morale and show appreciation. They want you to have fun and relax, but make no mistake about it: work functions are still work.
2. Have a plan
Make any holiday party less intimidating by putting a plan in place. You might be more inclined to drink too much or do something silly if you’re feeling anxious. So, reach out to a colleague that you trust about carpooling so that you arrive and leave at the same time. Or schedule with another co-worker to both attend and arrive together so that you have someone you’re comfortable talking with there for support.
Keep in mind: Arriving late to a work party may not be acceptable. Plus, you’ll need to stick out the event for a decent amount of time as well. Finding out in advance what to expect of the party agenda can help you plan. For example, if it’s a sit-down dinner, you’re not likely to pop in and out in just 20 minutes. If your department is going to be asked to play games, you may not want to let the team down. If your boss or the CEO is going to make a presentation, you probably don’t want to miss that.
3. Meet new people
Holiday work functions can be a great opportunity for you to meet new people. Try to avoid hovering in a pack with the same crew of people you always talk to at work. Instead, challenge yourself to make connections with other colleagues or customers.
People are typically more relaxed at parties, which can make it easier for you to cross departmental divides and network. After introducing or re-introducing yourself, instead of sticking to work chatter, you might discuss the holidays in a general way that invites people to share their traditions without your putting them on the spot. This gives you a chance to learn more about the people you work with and their lives outside of the office.
4. Put your phone away
There’s always someone to text or some social media channel to scroll, but aim to leave your phone in your pocket or purse for the duration of the party. If you spend the entire event looking down at your phone, you won’t get to meet anyone new and could come across as disrespectful.
Without the crutch of your phone taking your attention, you’ll have to focus on being present at the event and interacting with those around you. You might even find you have fun enjoying food, drink, and lively conversations.
5. Remember, everything in moderation
Writing in the Financial Times, leadership and diversity consultant Nels Abbey reminds us to tread cautiously. He called for people to not only moderate alcohol consumption but also social enthusiasm. Specifically, his tips include:
- “Never do or say anything at a work party that you would not do or say in front of a member of the clergy or even, heaven forbid, a tabloid journalist.”
- Avoid gossiping too much (the person you’re talking about could be at that party)
- Steer clear of discussions of politics and/or religion
- Know the company culture and respect it
- Don’t alienate or embarrass your boss
6. Say no
In a Washington Post article on holiday work party etiquette, several experts agreed that post-pandemic people have a greater understanding of how people’s lives outside of work can create obstacles to participation. This more laidback approach to attendance at company social events leaves you more room to safely decline an invitation.
Sophie Theen, a human resources consultant, suggested in the Post that you gauge what value you might gain by going. Perhaps you want to socialize or aim to create stronger bonds with colleagues. “But if you’re in a position where you just don’t feel like it will add any value, then feel free to decline,” she said.
If the event conflicts with your cultural values (e.g., consumption of alcohol or dancing), and no accommodations have been made for diversity, equity, and inclusion, definitely feel OK about staying home. It’s still a good idea to politely explain to your manager why you won’t be attending to avoid any misunderstandings.
Celebrate the holidays intentionally
With these strategies in mind you’re more likely to make it through a holiday work event without being the highlight of the Monday morning water cooler conversation. It can feel like stepping across a minefield, but with the right mindset you can make the most of a workplace gathering and even end up enjoying stronger relationships with your co-workers.
As a business if you’re looking to improve your employee engagement and create a culture your people love, Sogolytics can help! Request a demo from Sogolytics.