What To Do (And What Not To Do) At Your Office Holiday Party

UPDATED: March 11, 2024
PUBLISHED: December 15, 2023
Drunk obnoxious guy with Santa hat on exemplifying what not to do at your office holiday party

It’s the holidays, right? Time to pour a few drinks with your favorite colleagues and finally break the ice with your iciest boss. But what you might not be thinking about is that your behavior at your office holiday events might directly impact your career headed into 2024. It’s not just Santa who’s watching…

Not to scrooge all over your fun workplace event, but it’s helpful to have a strategy and a mindset on how the holiday party might relate to your position. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t have any fun—quite the opposite, actually. 

From all-out multiday retreats to quaint little coffee get-togethers, here’s how to strategically think through your event as a leader or employee, including what not to do at your office holiday party. 

How to behave at the company holiday party

You aren’t at your bestie’s bachelorette party. Nor are you presenting in the boardroom. So aim for somewhere in between, says Jenny Dreizen, an etiquette expert and co-founder of Fresh Starts Registry in Edinburgh, Scotland. “Your work is your source of income, and for most of us, we need that income to keep flowing inward. From making an inappropriate joke to getting overly emotional—save it for your friend’s holiday events. In the workplace, be a slightly more festive and relaxed version of your everyday self.”

An easy trick to remember is whether you’d want to face your colleagues the next day after doing or saying something borderline. Even if your workplace offers a more party vibe for the holiday party, remember that these are still your co-workers and supervisors,” says Jennifer Bishop, an event planner and owner of J. Leigh Events in Charlotte, North Carolina. “You have to see these people again the next day or after the weekend. There is nothing wrong with letting loose, but try to keep your wits about you and keep your composure.”

Get to know those typically out of reach

Maybe you work remotely for someone you see twice per year. Or maybe every time your manager has been in your building, they are flying around trying to keep up with daily tasks and haven’t really gotten to know you. Now’s your chance. 

“Get to know your bosses and their peers. Corporate holiday parties are a time when executives feel and show gratitude for their employees,” says Sindhu Srivastava, CEO at We Crush Events, a corporate events company in Los Angeles. “Make a personal connection with them by asking about them versus talking shop.” 

It might not be your boss you want to chat with but a potential new colleague or another co-worker you don’t typically interact with. These relationships are worth investing in at the holiday party and beyond to improve everyone’s quality of work and life back at the office.

What not to do at a work holiday party: Don’t be MIA

It might seem like one more extra in an already-packed holiday season. But it’s an extra you want to reply “yes” to. “Do participate, even if it is taking place during your lunch hour,” Bishop says. “Trust me when I say people will notice if you choose to skip.” 

But Bishop also says to take care not to RSVP “yes” and then not show up, as the company is putting money into food, drink and decor costs. “Don’t bring a plus one or a significant other if they are not invited—that goes for the kiddos too.”

On the other hand, Dreizen recommends not pushing employees who can’t make it. Keep expectations reasonable given the stressors this time of year. “Be friendly, be warm, don’t cajole people into drinking and don’t ask people why they are not partaking,” Dreizen says. “Set an end time for the party so people don’t get too crazy. If they want to let loose, let them do that at an after-party they create or with friends after.”

Keep the reason for the season at the forefront of planning

If you are in charge of planning the event, keep employee appreciation front of mind and the center of all the events. Dreizen says, “If you hold that truth before you, you won’t fail.”

This can mean intentionally planning fun awards for employees, having meaningful conversations about their contributions this year or simply taking an interest in their personal and professional lives at the event.

Remember that you can’t manufacture appreciation at the holidays if the workplace environment hasn’t established it throughout the year or it will just feel fake. 

To keep the focus on employees rather than all-out partying, Bishop says planners can be intentional about preventing issues with alcohol. “We recently worked with a client that did a game night at a hotel. They provided all of their guests with two drink tickets and an Uber code/gift card to ensure everyone got home safely. While their guests were allowed to consume more than just the two drinks at the hotel bar, this set an expectation that this was meant to be a fun night.”

Joann Butler, president and CEO of Consultancy Media in New York, jokes, “Cut yourself off or you might accidentally end up promoting someone.”

What not to do at an office holiday party:

Don’t be like these people

Dreizen shares the holiday bloopers she’s seen through the years—a quick guide of what not to do at a work holiday party.

“I worked at a company that had what could be called a frat-like atmosphere—one year, we went to this lovely restaurant… I’d organized the whole thing with the owner of the restaurant. We rented out the back room, the wine flowed and the menu was delicious. One of the lead developers decided the best move was to go take shots at the bar; he failed to read the room. It was not that kind of place. He also failed to take the shot, which he immediately vomited back up and onto the bar. The whole company had to leave the restaurant after that. It was a real buzzkill. Later that night, he would be ejected from our local dive bar for trying to use his MetroCard as an ID.

“Another coworker got overly enthusiastic at a festive karaoke event; he continuously cut into other people’s in-progress songs to perform his selected and favored tune—“Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. It was funny the first three times but frustrating the last four. Additionally, every time he finished, he would do a dramatic mic drop. The staff kept asking us not to do that as it was expensive equipment. This was someone fully letting loose, but on Monday, they still had to face their co-workers. It wasn’t the cutest look.”

Instead, be like Melissa Cuthbert, MBA, executive director at Timber Creek Counseling in Ann Arbor, Michigan: 

“I decided to use the company holiday party as an opportunity to build relational equity with my co-workers so that the next time I had to email them with an ask, they would have a positive association with the Melissa they remember from the holiday party. So I decided to volunteer to sing a song for the party—a party of about 600 people—with zero ability to carry a tune. People loved it. Years later, they still brought it up to me. I think it was ultimately a fun way to let loose and incredibly beneficial to me professionally in my day-to-day role.”

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