Office Christmas parties are a lot like air travel, in that the best you can hope for is that it will be more or less uneventful. You can work with the best, friendliest, chillest people alive and your Christmas party will still very likely be uncomfortable and stiff. Someone said to me once that they’re like being a kid and having an adult-enforced play date. Mandatory fun, some drinks tickets and that guy from production whose name you can never remember. Since graduation, I’ve been to exactly three work Christmas events and here are the five rules I will definitely be sticking to this year:
1. Don’t get drunk
This is number one, because I mean, obviously. It’s one of those things that most people have to actually do to fully realise what a terribly bad idea it is, and if you’re dead set on getting on it at your work holiday party, far be it from me to stop you. But I’m telling you from experience: it’s a BAD. IDEA. I’m not necessarily on the side of never ever getting drunk with people from work (though I personally try to avoid it), but do it at a time that isn’t a company-wide event. There’s likely people there who you don’t interact with very often, so this might be a first impressions scenario. Your boss is probably there. Your boss’ boss could be there.
Seriously guys, having too much to drink at the Christmas party is such a bad idea. Even if you’re in a very social work place, where going out and drinking with your colleagues is common – the Christmas party is a different ball game. This isn’t Thursday night after work drinks, you should treat it like you would an event with your clients or something. Wear something nice, show up on time, have a couple of drinks and just play it safe. There’ll be plenty more opportunities to go out with your work friends, drink a bit too much and complain about Sheryl in HR.
2. Do you have to go? Do you want to go?
For most of these things, attendance is pretty much mandatory. The degree of mandatory-ness often depends on what time and where the party’s going to be; i.e if it’s taking place during work hours you probably do have to go. If it’s after work, then you should check the wording on the event invitation. A lot of the time, there’ll be some gently worded thing about how they expect to see every one there in which case, you should at least make an appearance. If it’s more informal, and for whatever reason you really, really don’t want to go, don’t stress yourself out too much about it. It’s not like people aren’t extra busy with other engagements this time of the year, and I think it’s fine to just say you have an important family thing that night. Myself, I struggle with parties, and something I find useful is to just set myself a time limit and say I’ll leave by 9pm or whatever. That takes some of the pressure off, you feel more in control of the situation and you can look at the clock and know how much longer you have to stay. So if you’re really dreading the office party and it’s mandatory, don’t feel like you have to go and be the life and soul of the event. Show up, have a couple of drinks, some awkward chit chat and then leave with a clear conscience.
3. You’re not obligated to buy presents for people
Unless you’ve got a gift giving thing already set up, like a secret santa or something. If you haven’t formalised it, you don’t have to. You especially don’t have to buy something for your boss, which can usually make things more awkward than they need to be (think of your gift to your boss as all the awesome work you do for them). An exception to the rule would be baked goods which you bring for everybody. General rule of thumb is something for everyone or nothin’ for nobody.
4. Find out what everyone else is wearing
Work Christmas parties are pretty much the apex of casual/formal nightmares, and I’ve found the best strategy is to just ask other people what they’re planning on wearing. Preferably people who have been there for a while and know what’s up re sartorial expectations. Also, as mentioned above in point one, remember this is a work event so even if the invitation says something like ‘festive casual’ try to err toward professional rather than sexy/trendy. Again, there’ll be plenty of time for that once the work party’s over and done with. Boring, yes, but true.
5. Topics of conversation that aren’t work
Best to steer clear of talking about work. This is a good opportunity to get to know people you might not talk to very often, or at the very least feign an interest in people you might not talk to very often. Ask them about sports, movies, their families, hobbies, anything that isn’t their job. And, this might go without saying, but also steer clear of politics, religion, that whole general arena. Alcohol, office politics and potential incendiary topics of conversation and that is a grenade of work-related awkwardness that could keep exploding all through the new year.
So if I had to sum up my feelings about office Christmas parties, it would be this: they happen once a year and you’ve just got to get through them with a minimum of weirdness. Happy holidays!