Office Christmas parties are a strange mix of fun and stress. In many corporate cultures, the office Christmas party is a bonus for employees, with food, drinks, gifts, and other perks designed to reward employees for their hard work throughout the year. It’s also an opportunity to engage with your coworkers (and bosses) less formally, building bonds and getting to know each other.
As an individual, this is a good opportunity to have fun, but you’ll also want to make the right impression—finding the right balance between personal fun and professionalism to preserve your reputation (while still enjoying yourself). Fortunately, once you familiarize yourself with the etiquette, you’ll be able to relax and have a good time without embarrassing yourself.
The RSVP (and Invites)
First, be aware of the rules for invites, and how you’re supposed to RSVP. Generally, offices will send out a company email, or create a shared calendar event that explicitly tells employees how they’re supposed to respond. In some cultures, attendance is mandatory, since this is seen as a teambuilding event. In others, you’ll need to RSVP whether or not you’re attending.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re clear on whether it’s permissible to invite significant others, spouses, or children. Most Christmas parties allow spouses to attend, but it’s rarer to find a kid-friendly event. That said, don’t invite a spouse (or anyone else, for that matter) unless you’ve been given specific permission. If you’re confused in any way, ask your supervisor or HR rep for more specificity.
How to Dress
Next, you’ll need to consider how to dress. Most office Christmas parties don’t have an explicit dress code. For the most part, you can assume that what you would wear on a normal day in the office is appropriate—though usually, you can be a little less formal. Try not to wear anything too revealing, or copious amounts of jewelry. However, if you can be festive while still maintaining a formal look (such as by wearing a Christmas suit), feel free. Again, if you’re confused about what’s considered acceptable and what’s not, talk to your supervisor or an HR rep.
Mastering the Timing
Many Christmas parties start at 7 or 8, after normal work hours. You’ll need to think about your timing carefully—too early, and you might find yourself in an awkward position. Too late, and you might be seen as disrespectful. If you can, go home between your working hours and the start of the party, so you can change and get ready for party mode. If not, don’t stop working until you see that more than half of your coworkers have stopped working and started partying. See if you can figure out when your coworkers plan to arrive so that you can arrive together.
How Much to Drink
Chances are, your office party will feature at least some available alcoholic beverages, which will present you with an interesting dilemma: how much should you drink? If you don’t drink anything, you may be seen as turning down your boss’s generosity. But if you drink too much, you could make a foolish decision, or embarrass yourself. Make sure you aren’t drinking more than your supervisors, and when in doubt, stick to one drink per hour, maximum.
Introductions and Conversation
Office Christmas parties are a great way to meet people you haven’t met before, and build better bonds with people you’re already familiar with. But you won’t get to meet people or get to know them better unless you go out of your way to mingle. Introduce yourself to new people, and try to make at least a little conversation with every individual at the party. One word of caution, however; avoid talking about work-related responsibilities. This is meant to be a party for individual people, and bringing up work-related topics could kill the mood.
Assistance and Management
You can make a better impression on your bosses and supervisors by volunteering your efforts to assist the party. Planning and executing parties is hard work, so coming in a few minutes early to help set up, or staying a few minutes late to help tear down can be enormously beneficial. You can also be proactive in cleaning up spills or loading more food when necessary throughout the party.
It’s true that if you want to make a good impression at the office Christmas party, you’ll have to think carefully about the etiquette and your behavior—but you also shouldn’t take things too seriously. This is, after all, a party, and as long as you don’t step egregiously out of bounds, you shouldn’t have a problem enjoying yourself and still making a good impression on your coworkers, bosses, and clients.