HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTIES:  What Not To Do! by Sheri Warren Sankner


The holiday season is officially here so it’s time to eat, drink, and be merry, right? Maybe, in moderation! You have to know your limits, especially if you’re attending a holiday office party.

Career reputations have been tarnished and worse so, always remember that you represent your business and professional ethics when you attend business functions of any type. In a Business Insider article, Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert and the author of “The Essentials of Business Etiquette,” reminds holiday gatherers of the importance of office celebrations. “People need to remember that although the holiday party is a time to celebrate, this activity is still a business event and how you behave matters. People have said and done all sorts of inappropriate things that have impacted their career by not following simple etiquette rules,” Pachter says.

If you don’t want to be fodder for the office water cooler or be regaled next year as a Christmas legend, then check out Zootscoop’s do’s and don’ts of holiday office parties. So, let’s start with the basics: arrivals and departures, dress codes, alcohol use, food, manners, guests, and conversations.

Arrivals and departures
Do be sure you check the invitation for arrival time and adhere to it. Don’t arrive an hour early to hang out at the bar, as it might loosen you up a bit too much. Likewise, avoid making a late or grand entrance, which draws overt attention to your entry. Unless you are a guest of honor, arriving more than 15 minutes late or with a lot of pomp and circumstance could signal an inflated ego to coworkers and bosses. Don’t be the first or last to leave. Leaving too early or staying long after the function’s ending time could indicate a disregard for social mores.

Dress codes
All eyes are on you at holiday office parties, so do check your invitation for dress code. Black tie means formal attire for men and women. Women should wear a long formal dress or shorter cocktail dress with heels. Men should adorn a dinner jacket (or tuxedo jacket) with matching trousers, bow tie, and cummerbund. Cocktail attire suggests a dark navy or charcoal grey suit worn with a tie for men, and a shorter, party dress for women, such as the go-to little black dress.

Business professional attire usually means neutral colors and conservative appearance. That means suits and ties with a solid colored dress shirt for men. Suits, pant suits or dresses with jackets are appropriate for women.

Business casual is simpler and more informal, however, jeans are generally not considered appropriate. A conservative knee-length skirt or tailored pants worn with a blouse or sweater would be appropriate for women, while men generally wear plain trousers or khakis with a collared shirt (ties and seasonal sports jackets are optional). Remember work events are still considered professional, no matter what the venue, so avoid plunging necklines, revealing micro-minis, too much bling in the jewelry, or other over-the-top looks that may draw too much attention to your appearance.

Alcohol use
Excessive drinking always proves to be a challenge for holiday party attendees. Excessive alcohol use is never recommended at office holiday gatherings. The lack of inhibitions and errors in judgment that alcohol can produce could lead to serious workplace repercussions. You might easily say or do something that you will regret the next day. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, which means limiting yourself to two drinks. Don’t mix drinks and make sure you drink plenty of water. Coffee, tea, and soft drinks are always good alternative beverages.

Food is an important ingredient at holiday parties and how you eat and use your manners may be noted. At gatherings with passed hors d’oeuvres, do not walk around with multiple hors d’oeuvres. Do not stuff your mouth with canapés or chase down waiters for extras. Always keep your mouth and hands clean and free to allow coworkers to approach you professionally. Never overfill your plate or double dip at the buffet. Also, no matter how delicious the food is, never ask for a doggie bag.

Do turn your cell phone off so that you are always in the moment and not responding to texts, emails, or social media posts. Respect your fellow guests’ privacy, and never post holiday party photos or comments that could be considered scandalous or compromising. Pictures of intoxicated co-workers does not bode well for them or the person posting them to social media.

As for table manners at a sit-down dinner, always know which utensils to use and when to use your fingers. It’s important to remember basic table etiquette: don’t wolf down your food, eat gluttonously or drink to excess, slurp, burp, or chomp your food. Do not reach over people for the butter or bread, simply ask for its passing. The rule of thumb for table settings are that cutlery is used from the outside in, your water and wine glass are on your right above the knife, and your side plate is to your left.

You do not need to bring a host/hostess gift unless the party is held at someone’s house. But you do always need to greet at the beginning and say goodbye to your host at the end. Thank you notes also may be in order if the party is in someone’s home or it’s a formal event.

Check in advance who is invited to the event as spouses and significant others are not always included on the guest list. Bringing a guest to a party meant only for employees could result in a potentially uncomfortable evening. Also, remember that your date is a reflection of you, so his or her appearance, actions, and behavior can impact your professional image.

Always arrive at office events armed with icebreakers and conversation starters that make people feel comfortable and demonstrate your interest in their families and their interests. Mingle with everyone and approach them with a smile and a friendly greeting. Keep your conversations short, light and positive. Stay away from heated discussions about politics, economics, or religion as they can have a polarizing effect. Always be a good listener. Never complain about your company or your job, or even worse, badmouth a colleague or your boss, as your words are sure to come back to you with a vengeance. Always make people feel comfortable by including anyone who approaches you to join the group. If co-workers arrive with spouses or significant others, make sure to introduce yourself so everyone feels welcome and valued.

A holiday office party doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable or challenging obligation. Just follow our tips and remember that it is a professional event and let that guide your choices and actions.
Happy holidays!


All books and/or merchandise is available at Click on title to learn more.

The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success
by Barbara Pachter

Emily Post’s The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success, Second Edition
by Peggy Post and Peter Post

Modern Etiquette for a Better Life: Master All Social and Business Exchanges
by Diane Gottsman


Office Holiday Party Etiquette Rules –
Office Holiday Party Etiquette –
The Unspoken Etiquette of Your Holiday Office Party –

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