Office Party Suggestion: Don’t Go
Don't Go to Office Parties
This suggestion is counter to what the experts in such matters say. I am not writing as an expert in such matters. If you are a company executive then this article is not meant for you. Although as a manager it may help you understand why some people stay away from office parties.
It’s not worth the risk
“According to business etiquette expert Hilka Klinkenberg, the cardinal rule is to remember that no matter how festive the occasion, it's still about business. Don't fall off the fast track to success or risk damaging your professional reputation in one night of inadvertent blunders.”[i]
What would you consider is worth the risk of damaging your career or your professional reputation? A party doesn’t seem to rise to the level of taking such a risk. Don’t write off your spouse’s criticism of your social behavior or things you say to others. Your spouse might be humorless and hypercritical but that is a dangerous assumption when an office party is involved. If your spouse regularly points out the social missteps you make accept the reality you will say or do something wrong at the office party. The reverse is true if the company allows, or expects, you to bring your spouse. Do you really want to school your spouse on office party etiquette?
Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert and the author of "The Essentials of Business Etiquette" wrote "Don’t frown, slouch, cross arms, or yawn. You never know who might be observing you,"[ii] If this seems familiar it is probably something your parents told you when you were 8 years old and they dragged you to a boring event.
A common piece of advice on office party etiquette is not to talk about sex, politics, religion, and don’t gossip about coworkers. It is an easy rule to follow if you are going to talk to yourself all evening. Do you get drawn into political debates with your uncle at family gatherings? If so then why do you think someone at the office party won’t draw you in? Coworker gossip often begins, not ends, with the end of the party. At work people often talk about a coworker behavior at the holiday party. If you attend the party you are probably giving workplace gossips something to talk about.
Another piece of advice is not to post photos of people engaged in inappropriate behavior online. Good advice for you to follow but someone else might not have gotten the memo. If someone else takes a picture of a coworker behaving inappropriately and you’re in the picture that makes you complicit. Have someone ever taken a candid photo of you where you look silly or as if you’re drunk?
[i]Office Holiday Party Etiquette, by Susan Bryant, Monster Contributing Writer (http://career-advice.monster.com/in-the-office/workplace-issues/office-holiday-party-etiquette/article.aspx), accessed December 13, 2015.
[ii]13 things you should never do at the office holiday party Jacquelyn Smith (http://www.businessinsider.com/etiquette-rules-for-the-office-holiday-party-2015-12), accessed December 16, 2015.
Still going to go
Some of you will still go to office parties. A web search of “office party etiquette” will yield numerous sites that have generally good advice on office party behavior. Sometimes the advice is conflicting and sometimes the advice doesn’t go far enough.
Barbara Patcher advises, "Don't just talk business. Be up-to-date on current events and happenings in your community. Read the newspaper, your online news sites, news magazines, company publications, and your professional journals,"[i] The idea is to not just talk shop and not to only talk to people who work in your section. You can’t talk about sex, politics, or religion so what is there to talk about? Will you talk about the street light they are going to install on State Street? Talking about the latest astronomical discovery may interest some but bore others. A new method of arc welding might be interesting to people in your section, but the people in accounting might not find it exciting. A good conversation topic is professional sports. Even people who aren’t interested would accept your interest. That is assuming you know about the sport. Saying you think the Washington Nationals will beat the New York Mets by 3 touchdowns will not go well. It’s alright if you don’t think that joke is funny but if you don’t get the punch line avoid talking about sports.
Good advice is to assume people will see, hear, and remember everything you do. Better advice is people will see, hear, and remember just enough to make you look bad. Robin Abrahams advises, “[G]et something like a rum and Coke or gin and tonic for your first drink, then stick to plain Coke or tonic after that. This way no one will know how much you're not drinking.”[ii] That’s good advice for staying sober but will others at the party know those drinks you’re downing like soda are soda? Avoid flirting, good advice. If you spend a lot of one on one time with someone others may assume you’re flirting or something more serious. At the office party three isn’t a crowd, four isn’t too many, and five is definitely allowed.
Don’t drink. That’s excellent advice some of you won’t follow no matter how many articles you read on office party etiquette. If there is a chance you‘ll drink too much make plans before the party. Never drive if your blood alcohol level is possibly over the legal limit. Using a cab service is good. Having your spouse drop you off and pick you up has some advantages:
- Getting a ride home because you didn’t drive there is better than getting a ride because you are unfit to drive.
- You can arrange a pick up time so you can leave before you are likely to get drunk and stupid.
- You don’t have the problem of retrieving your car the next day.
Office party etiquette says you should thank the host and party coordinator. If you think you might drink too much plan to give your thanks the next day. A drunken person giving thanks doesn’t make a good impression.
[i] 13 things you should never do at the office holiday party Jacquelyn Smith (http://www.businessinsider.com/etiquette-rules-for-the-office-holiday-party-2015-12), accessed December 16, 2015.
[ii] Office Holiday Party Etiquette (http://www.boston.com/bostonworks/galleries/holiday_parties1206?pg=2), accessed December 16, 2015.
Non-attendance Philosophy and Etiquette
The company is paying for the party but so are you. The company can give employees money rather than throw a party. If the company doesn’t give a party it can keep the money and increase its profit margin. This and other cost saving measures could make it a better working environment throughout the year.
If someone tells you the party is starting just say “thank you.” If someone asks if you are going to the party just say “no.” Do not try to justify your decision. They should respect your decision. If the party starts during work hours do not leave work early unless you are going to take leave. If you have enough leave time consider taking leave the day of the party. If the party is a pot luck consider bringing a cover dish anyway. Someone is not likely to make a comment about you bringing a cheap dish to a pot luck you don’t attend. Anyone who does will show themselves a fool. If they are having a collection to pay for the food contribute.
A reason often given for attending the office party is because it is a “time to network and schmooze with people at the party who can influence your career.”[i] Would you want to enhance your career this way or by being a dedicated and efficient employee? Would you have any respect for someone who tries to enhance their career through an office party? Should you have respect for a manager who advances someone’s career based on what happened at an office party?
[i] Holiday Office Party Do’s and Don’ts, by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., (http://www.quintcareers.com/office-party-dos-donts/), accessed December 17, 2015.