The New Rules of the Office Holiday Party


Office Holiday Parties Will Soon Begin. Be Prepared.

One holiday season, my co-workers and I gathered in the lunchroom for our office holiday party, eager to dine on a potluck holiday meal. In the center of the lunchroom sat a giant punch bowl with sangria. An hour into the party, the bowl had been refilled at least three times and most of my colleagues were laughing more than I had ever seen.

This year, we can expected fewer punch bowls at the office holiday party.  Because of the political and business climate, employers say they are planning scaled-down festivities with less alcohol and more limited guest lists.

As employers rethink their office holiday party strategies, we need to do the same. There are new circumstances and new rules that apply this holiday season.

Be on guard for political talk.

It’s inevitable that someone will bring up politics, particularly some statement or action by President Trump. You will need to make an-on-the spot judgment call. Usually, the rules are don’t talk politics in the workplace. About 90 percent of the time, your judgment should tell you to stay quiet at the holiday party when someone brings up politics. However, if you are one-on-one with a higher up and you feel the same way on a political issue, it may be okay to agree. Use caution.


Tap into the new awareness of sexual harassment.

Sexual misconduct is one of the hottest topics of the year. This year, more than ever, no one can afford to be a groper and blame alcohol as an excuse. In fact, because of the recent high-profile lawsuits involving inappropriate sexual behavior in the news and the #MeToo campaign, employers are being more cautious. A survey by Challenger Grey & Christmas, a Chicago-based global outplacement & career transitioning firm, found only 47.8 percent of employers will serve alcohol at their holiday parties this year, down from nearly 62 percent of company parties that offered alcohol service in 2016. But even without alcohol, a more relaxed environment might invite inappropriate behavior or unguarded comments. If you’re a jokester, be extra cautious this year. Also, don’t sit or stand near anyone who could put you in an awkward position.


Network as if your career depends on it.

Sure, it’s nice to enjoy the festive atmosphere of a company office party. But today, no one is safe in their jobs. As Elizabeth Harrin, author of says: Networking is an essential part of your job, whether you know it (or like it) or not.” The rules of the holiday office party typically are “don’t talk shop.” It’s good to abide by that rule, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the party as an opportunity to strategically bond with people who can advance your career. use this occasion to meet people in other departments. In addition, as Challenger suggests,  learn more about the interests of your co-workers or managers outside of the office. That personal connection will help you when you bring up that new idea, and it could help when it comes time for salary reviews.

Listen to office gossip.

Normally, gossiping in the workplace is a BIG don’t. But this holiday season is a strange one. Automation and digitization are changing many industries and in some cases, that means our job security is at risk. In addition, the fourth quarter is critical for some businesses and we all need to be tuned into how performance could affect our income and growth opportunities. Those dynamics make attending the office holiday party critical as well as asking key questions and listening to conversations. Knowledge is power.


Attend other companies’ parties.

Most people feel odd about or reluctant to attend company parties they are invited to that aren’t their own. This year, shake it off and get out there and mingle. Challenger Grey found 38 percent of company parties allow friends and family to attend. Meeting people outside your own workplace presents an opportunity to expand your professional network and possible learn about jobs openings that aren’t advertised. Today, all of us need our network to be as broad as possible. In the book, Business Networking – The Survival Guide: How to Make Networking Less About Stress and More About Success, Will Kintish writes: “If done right, meeting more people leads to more business and career opportunities.”


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