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Surviving the office Christmas party

Barry Smith

‘Tis the season for Christmas parties, especially the kind where everybody from the office gets together for a great time and, if they keep their heads about them, are able to return to the office on Monday morning without having to hide from their co-workers.

Yes, I’ve survived quite a few office Christmas parties over the years, including the one with the German oom-pah band and the one where the Big Boss, who had just returned from a trip to the Soviet Union, kept addressing everybody as “comrade.”

Office Christmas parties are the single most dangerous event for employees who are expecting to still have a job when the New Year rolls around.

The No. 1 rule for office parties of any kind:

n Don’t get drunk.

This may be obvious to most of you, but I think you will also agree that every office Christmas party you’ve ever attended has included at least one person who apparently decided the best way to get prepared was to down a fifth in the parking lot on the way in.

That’s pretty much the extent of my advice, so I looked up some experts who can give you a few more details – especially if you haven’t had much experience at these annual events.

These tips are from Peter Hess, founder and president of Young Adult Professional Associates Inc., and Lou Kennedy, business etiquette trainer for the organization, who are trying to keep young professionals from waking up the morning after with a hangover and list of regrets. I’ve adapted them a bit from my own observations.

What not to do at the company Christmas party:

n Blow it off. Not showing up is disrespectful to supervisors and co-workers. Hey, the company is throwing the party for you. The least you can do is get there, even if you dread it. In a related note, one newspaper’s survey found 14 percent of employees would rather clean house than attend the bash.

n Forget the boss is watching. Smile, have fun, show some personality. But stupid is, I think somebody once remarked, as stupid does. No excuse for showing it off when your guard is down. The boss will remember.

n T-shirts and sandals. There’s nothing more fun for the rest of us than gossiping about what someone else wore, especially when it’s wildly inappropriate to the occasion. “The goal is to display professional qualities, not show how funky or daring you are,” say Hess and Kennedy.

n The business-talking bore. I think it should be a rule at every social get-together outside the office that you can’t talk business. But there’s always somebody who gets you cornered and wants to rattle on about exactly the same stuff you just talked about for eight hours. It’s a party! Try to prove you have interests outside the business.

n Me, Me, Me. By the way, try to prove you have interests that involve other people. I’ve found it’s always a good idea to talk to the bosses about one of their hobbies, rather than one of your own.

n Who’s the boss? “It is amazing, but some young professionals do not introduce themselves to senior managers at a company party. They are afraid of what a boss might think, or they don’t realize the importance of a face-to-face meeting. They should not be surprised when bosses ignore them when it comes time for advancement,” say Hess and Kennedy.

I was invited to a small dinner party once by the Boss of Bosses, who asked me at the door, “Now, let’s see, who are you?” It was not a good sign. But I managed not to spill anything at the party, engaged the Boss of Bosses in conversation, and was able to work there for several more years.

n About my pay. Oh, my. Is this really necessary advice? Does anybody actually complain about their pay or ask for a raise at the Christmas party? Apparently so. Do they still work for the company? Probably not.

n Hanky-panky. This used to be the stereotypical image of the office party, when a couple of co-workers would be discovered groping each other in the supply closet. Forget it. When they sober up on Monday, one or both of them is filing a sexual-harassment lawsuit.

n The College Bash. You’re not at a frat party. Behaving like you did when you were in college “can show immaturity,” say Hess and Kennedy. Frankly, behaving like you did when you were in college can get you arrested.

n Set ’em up, Joe. “Drinking to excess at a company party will kill a career instantly. Don’t have more than two alcoholic beverages and better yet, don’t drink at all,” according to the experts. Well, that’s no fun. But do know your limit. And most important, if you’re going to drink, have somebody who isn’t drinking drive you home.

I think that’s all good advice, and if you don’t believe me I’ll leave you with a few statistics from that survey I mentioned earlier.

n Six percent of employees had witnessed a co-worker being fired at their office party.

n Five percent confessed to throwing punches during the celebrations and a similar number admitted to stripping in public.

n One in six workers admitted they had insulted their boss.

n And 19 percent said the event would be “markedly improved” if the boss didn’t attend.

Have fun!

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221.