Holiday Office Party Tips

By Amy Winter

September 17, 2010 5 min read

The holiday office party is an opportunity to thank employees for their hard work. It isn't a time for employees to go wild and forget their office etiquette. John Challenger -- the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas -- says that these parties are a way to bring people together, not a time to create embarrassing situations and conflict.

Be careful when it comes to the party dress code. Randall Hansen, founder of Quintessential Careers, recommends keeping festive attire as professional as possible. Avoid wearing the outfits you choose when going to a bar or a club. Keep the revealing and flashy clothing at home. It is probably a better idea for companies to suggest a more formal dress code, according to Vicki Lynn, vice president of research and consulting at

"Dressing casual and sloppy promotes casual and sloppy behavior," Lynn says. "If it's too casual, people let their guard down and forget that they are with office colleagues. They may cross the line toward inappropriate behavior."

The key to controlled behavior is moderation. Employees can have a good time without eating as much food as possible or taking full advantage of an open bar. Management should develop methods to keep these parties under control. Lynn suggests keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum by making sure there is enough food, providing nonalcoholic beverages, considering drink tickets that allow two drinks per person, avoiding a cocktail hour or having a party for only a few hours. Lynn recommends doing an activity rather than only eating and drinking. Attend a sports game, a play or a concert. Or a gift-giving game of "secret Santa" within a budget would be a fun and festive activity.

The holiday party is a perfect time to mingle and get to know other colleagues, but be aware of your conversation topics. Hansen recommends making yourself better-known in a positive way. Don't just discuss business. And definitely avoid talking badly about the company or a co-worker. Maintain a positive personal conversation by steering clear of politics, religion, sex or gossip. Lynn suggests keeping conversation topics to family vacations and travel plans or hobbies, sports, movies and books.

In the past few years, the economic downturn has affected office party budgets. Many companies are trying to cut costs. According to the 2009 holiday party survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, only 62 percent of companies planned holiday parties, compared with 77 percent in 2008 and 90 percent in 2007. Of those that held parties, about 29 percent of companies spent less in 2009. Challenger says that companies are trying to keep parties as low-profile and low-budget as possible.

There are options to keep the costs down this holiday season. If a company chooses to have a party, Lynn recommends having a potluck dinner to which each employee brings a dish. You even could do a green-and-red theme with the dishes. Provide a holiday lunch instead of a dinner. Serve beer/wine rather than mixed drinks. Or keep it a nonalcoholic event. Challenger suggests maintaining a small guest list by only inviting employees. If a company decides not to have a party, Lynn offers the idea of giving funds to a family in need.

"During these tough times, a party can be perceived as insensitive and spending money frivolously," Lynn says. "A low-key event or gesture is much more appropriate. Give everyone an afternoon or day off instead of a party."

The party location plays a big part in the budget. Instead of having a meal at a fancy restaurant, hold the event at the boss's house, a bowling alley, a skating rink, a museum, an art gallery or the office.

No matter where the party is, maintain business manners. Be polite to other guests. Thank the office manager and the others in charge of planning the event. Avoid inappropriate behavior and flirting. Try to be aware of those who don't celebrate Christmas. Lori Jepsen, a human resources director in advertising, says to refer to the party as "holiday" or "winter" rather than "Christmas."

"Colleagues take cues from the boss," Lynn says. "The boss needs to model the appropriate behavior, set the tone for the holiday party and be clear on expectations."

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