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Holiday Party Etiquette: Stay on the Nice List

Holiday Party Etiquette: Stay on the Nice List
Credit: VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Office holiday parties are a time for celebrating and appreciating the successes of the past year. While drinks and a good time are typically part of an annual holiday party, remember that you're still with co-workers – and, more importantly, it's still business. A slip-up could lead to office gossip, awkward encounters or even termination.

"Alcohol and a loose tongue may add up to a regretful Monday morning," said Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide.

It's also important for companies to adequately prepare for holiday parties. Employers could find themselves in murky waters after inappropriate behavior by partygoers.

"While the annual company holiday party should be an event for everyone to enjoy, it requires careful preparation in order to avoid a potential HR or public relations nightmare," said Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO.

Etiquette experts suggest these do and don'ts that will keep you off the "naughty" list post-holiday party.

Do attend. While the event is usually optional, the holiday party is a work function, and attending shows your colleagues you are invested in the company. Schweitzer recommends arriving on time.

"Even if you truly do not want to attend, avoid arriving 30 minutes before the end just to make an appearance," she said.

Even more important, if you say you're going to attend, make sure you do – not showing up after you've RSVP'd is disrespectful to the hosts, said Michelle Roccia, executive vice president of employee engagement at WinterWyman.

Do wear something festive and tasteful. "Understand what [the] dress code will be and put forth the effort required to ensure that you wear appropriate attire," said Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and author of "Modern Etiquette for a Better Life." "You don't want to be the one who shows up in an outfit that is too casual or too formal." 

Do say goodbye and thank you. Be sure to thank your boss and/or owner of the company for the party. Expressing gratitude is a great way to make one last positive impression, Gottsman said.

Don't talk shop. Though the party is a work event, it's a time to interact with your co-workers in a relaxed way. Roccia recommends saving the discussion about the new software or your questions about a policy change for the office.

Don't corner anyone. While it's wonderful to chat with people you may not know as well, try to appropriately excuse yourself from the conversation after a reasonable amount of time so they don't feel like a caged animal, Roccia said.

Don't consume too much alcohol. Drink lots of water and eat plenty of food. Give yourself a drink limit, and stick with it. If you end up being "overserved," call an Uber or designate a driver, Roccia said.

Do update and distribute your HR policies. The first step to a fun and safe holiday part is ensuring all policies are up-to-date, including the anti-harassment policy.

"Make sure that employees understand that the company's sexual harassment and retaliation policies are in effect 24/7 – this includes company social events," Starkman told Business News Daily. He also suggests asking your leadership team to keep their ears and eyes open for potential issues at the holiday party.

Do make the party voluntary. While it would be nice if everyone attends the holiday party, don't make it a requirement. Some employees may already have plans. Also, it could possibly create wage confusion and problems. "If attending a company party is mandatory, employers may be opening the business to unforeseen wage-and-hour related issues," said Starkman. 

Do make your party inclusive. Even if most of your employees celebrate Christmas, nondenominational décor, music and activities will ensure that everyone feels welcome and accepted.

"Best practice is to avoid religious themes for a holiday party all together," Starkman told Business News Daily. "It's all about creating an inclusive environment where every team member feels welcome and not seeming to favor one religious group over another group."

Don't use the party as a company meeting. Your employees are at the holiday party to have a good time – not to work. Don't use the party as a time to roll out a new policy or review next year's strategic plan, said Laura Handrick, HR analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com.  

Don't let drinking get out of hand. Handrick said it's generous to have an open bar, and it's fun to include festive holiday-themed drinks. However, monitor drinking with a ticket system. This limits your liability and will save you money on drinks.

Starkman suggests offering free transportation to all employees in case anyone does get carried away at the bar. It's better to be safe than sorry, and providing a ride eliminates any chance of someone driving under the influence. 

Don't make it too late of a night. Work holiday parties are typically on the weekend, and employees may have other holiday events planned. Make it so your employees don't have to decide between events, and schedule the party early in the night, Handrick said.

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Saige Driver

Saige Driver graduated from Ball State University in 2015 with a degree in journalism. She started her career at a radio station in Indiana, and is currently the social media strategist at Business News Daily. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.