How to Navigate the Office Holiday Party

2018-12-05T10:18:23+00:00 December 5th, 2018|Manage Your Career|0 Comments

Off the top of your head, what you love most about the holiday season at your workplace?

According to two firms (Randstad USA and Challenger, Gray and Christmas) that do annual surveys about these things, it’s definitely not the office holiday party. They found that 90% of workers would rather get more time off or a bonus than attend the office holiday party.  

So, if you’re contemplating skipping this year’s event, you have plenty of company. But skipping may not be a great career move. Learn how to navigate the office holiday party instead.


To Attend or Not Attend

Office holiday events are a time to get to know employees at a more personal level. This is important because when you know someone personally, you’re more vested in working through your differences at work. Attendance also demonstrates that you support the company in its efforts to thank and please you.

If you’re serious about your career, show up. Because it’s the employees who like their coworkers and support the company who get the raises and promotions. It’s that simple.

At the party, you’re going to have access to people you don’t normally see. Even the most casual comment in the food line can make an impression on just the person in a position to influence your career. So, stay upbeat, happy and engaged at all times.

The trick to enjoying an office holiday party is to remember it’s still all about business. It’s not the place to cut loose at the open bar and risk your reputation. Instead, it’s a unique opportunity to reach out to people you don’t have access to in your day-to-day work life.

Here’s how to navigate the office holiday party:


1.  Show Up

Show up. More than show up: participate. Even if a company party isn’t your idea of a good time, look at it in the same way you tackle some of those tasks you don’t love but graciously do anyway.

This means don’t show up a half hour before it’s over. If you do this, all people will remember is your half-baked effort. Instead, show up on time. Then leave after an hour if you want to, citing another obligation.


2.  Set a Few Goals

Is there someone you enjoy working with but rarely see? Someone you’d like to get to know better? Want to tell your boss how much you’re enjoying your new responsibilities? Think up a few personally enjoyable interactions that will keep you moving around the room. This is how you would enjoy a party with your closest friends. Don’t give your coworkers any less of yourself.

If you’re nervous about approaching people, take a few deep breaths, extend an arm, smile warmly and say “Happy Holidays!”  Very often, the other person will seize the opportunity to lead the conversation. Let them, then steer it back to a topic that interests you when the time is right.


3.  Know the Dress Code and Attendee Policy

Showing up in jeans when everyone else is wearing suits or party dresses can be embarrassing. So make sure you know the dress code beforehand. And women, don’t wear anything any tighter, shorter or more revealing than you would to work. The wrong clothes will permanently alter your coworkers’ and management team’s professional image of you.

Spouses and significant others aren’t always invited to office holiday parties, so make sure you know the rules there too. Then, get make sure your companion understands this is not the venue to complain to your boss about your frequent travel or tell your coworkers about your recent raise.

Never attend any business function with a date you don’t know well enough to trust in this regard. Your companion’s behavior reflects on you.


4.  Drink Less than Everyone Else

For some, to navigate an office holiday party is to navigate an open bar. Don’t let it seduce you into drinking more than is good for you or your career. You don’t have to look farther than the #MeToo movement to know that saying or doing the wrong thing under the influence can ruin your reputation and career.

It’s not just sexual behavior either. Telling your boss what you really thought of a recent decision isn’t in your best interests, unless directly asked. The party is still a business event.

Besides, an exec may just be waiting for this occasion to thank you for the excellent job you did on a recent project and introduce you to her spouse.


5.  Socialize

First, socializing isn’t networking. This is a party and so business talk is inappropriate. Instead, keep all conversations light, positive and fun.

View the event as an opportunity to connect with co-workers outside your usual circle. Why do you want to do this? Because the more people you know, the more likeable, visible and memorable you become when it comes time to dole out plum assignments and promotions.

I get that minging and making small talk isn’t exactly an introvert’s idea of a good time, but the holiday season makes it infinitely easier. Just ask about holiday plans! It’s a very appropriate opener and usually no more is needed to get a conversation going.

Here are a few starters:

“Do you have a big family gathering this time of year?”

“What is your family’s favorite holiday tradition?”

“What’s your New Year’s Resolution for next year?”

“Are you planning any exciting vacations in the New Year?”

Don’t be surprised if you learn far more than you ever imagined from these seemingly innocuous questions!

You can also approach someone you admire from a distance with a line like this:

“Hi, I’m Maddie in the Systems Software group and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to meet you! I really liked how you handled… I feel privileged to work with you.”

I can promise you that the recipient will honored and ecstatic to hear these words, and will want to know who you are. Executives especially know they can be intimidating to approach since they remember well when they had to do the approaching themselves. They will respect and remember you for having the courage to step up.


6.  Thank Your Hosts

You wouldn’t think of leaving the party of a personal friend without saying thank you, so again, this is the time to treat your employer no differently. At some time during the event, seek out a few of the organizers to thank them and wish them a happy holiday season.

Regardless of how you may feel about the office holiday party, it is a gift to you from your employer. It’s very time-consuming to plan and organize, usually at considerable expense. A face-to-face thank you will show you’re well-mannered, which will make you memorable.



Even though most employees find it difficult to get excited about the company’s holiday events, it is a gift to you. Accept the gift by attending and navigate the office holiday party to make connections with people you don’t normally have access to in your day-to-day work life. By doing so, you’ll make yourself memorable. And that can only be good for your career.

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