It's the gift-getting season, and since the economy is doing fairly well, businesses are back in the business of throwing holiday parties for their staff. It's a nice gesture, I suppose. I would rather get the cash, but I have an anti-social streak – and no one asked me anyway. The press is full of ways companies can host these shindigs and avoid lawsuits, but employees need to take care as well at the annual holiday party.
I have worked for some rather big companies in the past, and given the budget of a major European bank or a global insurer, you can put on quite a spread: a fully stocked bar and live music for dancing at a five-star hotel ballroom. I have also worked for small firms where two cabs suffice to get everyone to a decent restaurant for the celebration. Both approaches have their charms at this time of year. But in these strange times, you have to be careful. Make a fool of yourself at the company holiday party, though, and you could pay for it all the coming year or longer.
The Holiday Party Commandments
First, attendance is mandatory unless you have a damned good excuse. Now, I know, HR will explain you don't have to be there; after all, if company policy says you have to attend, you may have a claim for over-time pay. Despite the official line, you can't miss the holiday party. Not turning up marks you as an ingrate, not-a-team player and all kinds of other things that will weigh against you. And if you do turn up, you can rub elbows with people who can do your career some good. Take advantage of it. That said, if parties aren't your speed, you don't have to arrive the moment it begins and stay until the end. Just hang out long enough for your nearest co-workers to see that you are there, and say “hi” to your supervisor's supervisor.
Next, alcohol is not to be consumed lightly at any corporate event – especially the holiday party. When you arrive, hit the buffet or eat something before you get there. Take it from a veteran, booze on an empty stomach is never wise. Pace yourself and know your limits. And your limits are usually two drinks fewer than you think they are. If you are not a regular drinker, keep it to one drink an hour. Alternating between alcohol and soft-drinks can help, too. If you are of a mind to really tie one on, wait until the party is over, and go to a bar. Hog-whimpering drunk while standing between the CEO and CFO is no way to advance your career, and you should only wake up in Shanghai after the party if that's where you live and work.
If You Didn’t Get the Message…
Then, in these post-Harvey-Weinstein days, keep your hands to yourself whenever you are at work, and that goes double for the company party. A handshake or a hug might be acceptable, but that's where the line gets drawn. Don't be the idiot with the mistletoe kissing everyone in sight. It was never clever, and now, it's a sign that you haven't been paying attention. And that brings us to dancing.
The dance floor is probably best avoided unless, like me, you prefer the mosh pit to slow dancing. Of course, if you dance like me, your friends and loved ones will already have told you “DON'T,” so it amounts to the same thing. The long and short of it is it's a corporate event, not a nightclub, so the standards are more staid. And we aren't really sure what is acceptable at a nightclub any more anyway.
Finally, you know your corporate culture and the personalities of your co-workers. Let that knowledge be your guide. If there is any doubt, err on the side of caution, and you will survive the company holiday party with your career and dignity intact.