BWSmallBiz -- Etiquette

Surviving the Office Holiday Party


SET EXPECTATIONSClearly state the dress code, and let employees know if clients will be present. Is it an employee-only event (no significant others or families)? Say so. If the party is supposed to be employee-only and a staffer wants to bring a guest, you might say, "We're not in a financial situation that allows us to invite others, but I hope that we'll be able to next year."

SET LIMITSIf you suspect a reveler has had too much to drink, try not to put him or her on the defensive, says Debra Gitto, an etiquette consultant in Ventnor City, N.J. Say, "I noticed that you're really enjoying yourself. Why don't I give you a ride home or call a cab?" No luck? Try, "I think you've had too much to drink. I'll help you get home, but please give me your keys." Then invite the person to join you for coffee or snacks.

DANCE—OR DECLINEIf you don't dance, just say so with a simple, "You're so kind, but I'm not a dancer and I think I'll pass on this one." If you do want to dance, skip the slow songs. But if a '70s disco tune has everybody out on the floor, dance with your partner briefly, then take the opportunity to dance with other employees as well. "It gives you the opportunity to be approachable and break down barriers," says Gitto.

KEEP IT RESPECTABLEIt's inevitable: Someone has shown up in a revealing number. If the party is employee-only, you might just look the other way. But if you've invited clients, some may be staring. Take the person aside and ask, "Do you have something to slip on over that?" If not, be prepared to offer something yourself.

WORK THE CROWDA holiday party is a chance to help others feel more comfortable around you, so mingle with people in all areas and levels of your company. Stay away from shop talk, especially if you've invited spouses and significant others. You want them to have a good time, too.

Return to the BWSmallBiz December 2009/January 2010 Table of Contents
Louise Lee, a former Businessweek correspondent, is a reporter and writer in Northern California.

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