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Holiday Office Party Faux Pas


5 Office Party Faux Pas and How to Avoid Them

By Shanon Lyon, Special to

Whether it’s spilling drinks or spilling company secrets, the holiday office party is an occasion ripe for faux pas (or worse). So before you throw back a drink (or three) and saddle up to the CEO to discuss the new healthcare plan, get familiar with the five biggest office party mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Arriving Unfashionably Late to the Office Party (or Not at All)

Unless you have a legitimate excuse (a friend’s much better party doesn’t count), you should do your best to make an appearance at the holiday office party. According Colleen A. Rickenbacher, business etiquette expert and author of Be on Your Best Business Behavior, you should always arrive within the first 15 minutes of an invitation.

"If it’s a come and go kind of party, the CEO and chairman of the board will be there when the party starts," says Rickenbacher. "If you show up late, you’ll miss them completely or pass them on their way out the door, which doesn’t make a good impression." 

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Both Rickenbacher and Rachel Weingarten, author of Career and Corporate Cool, suggest staying at the office party for at least 30 to 45 minutes but not leaving before any award ceremony or special event.

"Make sure you get around to the key people, chit-chat for a minute or two, and thank the person who organized the event," says Weingarten. 

2. Dressing Inappropriately for the Office Party

You want to be noticed, but not necessarily for what you’re wearing. If the room is full of cocktail dresses and suits, and you’re sporting a "festive" snowman sweater, you’re going to stand out. Likewise, anything too low, too tight, or too short could get you the wrong kind of attention. Rickenbacher suggests asking the organizers what they’re wearing to help guide your decision.

3. Bringing a Date (Who Wasn’t Invited)

Don’t assume you can bring a date to the office party unless it says so on the invitation. And, if the invite does call for a guest, make sure you bring someone you know. Explaining your relationship (or lack thereof) can be awkward for everyone involved and lead to faux pas number four.

4. Drinking Too Much

Excessive drinking is the story behind many social disasters which makes it the worst office party offense.

"People hear ‘party’ and they forget the word ‘office.’ They act in a way that they would when they’re out with friends or with their family," says Weingarten. "You end up making mistakes that your family has to forgive you for, but your co-workers or your boss can fire you for."

Play it cool by eating before your first drink and mingling as far away from the punch bowl as possible. 

5. Being Ungrateful to the Party Hosts

Remember that the office party is put on to thank you and your colleagues for your hard work. Both Weingarten and Rickenbacher suggest bringing a small gift for the organizer or host of the office party, like a desk calendar, a book, a candle, or a bottle of wine.

"By thanking the host or hostess, you’re also doing a bit of PR for yourself," says Weingarten. "If this person is responsible for gathering everyone in the company, then this is also the person who has everyone’s ear."

So, what if you wake up the morning after and realize you made a boo-boo at the office party? According to Weingarten, it’s possible to recover from these mistakes – if they’re forgivable. Making a fool of yourself is forgivable. Spilling a drink on someone is forgivable. Gossiping about your supervisor in the bathroom only to realize she’s in the stall next door is nerve-wracking, but forgivable. If your screw-up didn’t hurt anyone but you, a simple non-committal card ("Here’s hoping I wasn’t too stupid!") will do. If you’ve insulted someone, it’s important to apologize in person as soon as possible. And if you do something that’s unforgivable (like sleep with a married co-worker or spill the beans on a top-secret project), well, you’re on your own.

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