The politics of office holiday parties

Michael Kraft

office-holiday-partiesIt’s the time of year for office holiday parties. These can be great opportunities and good fun, but they are also fraught. There are three basic categories to get right in this context:

1) Caution/moderation; 2) Opportunity; and, 3) for those who throw the party, there are a few additional considerations.

First, remember that this is still work, and work rules apply.

Arrive on time and leave on time. Dress a little conservatively…have fun with the Rudolph antlers if you want, but don’t do the Magic Mike elf costume here. If you choose to drink, drink moderately. Don’t drink if you don’t want to OR if you’re the person where drink number one necessitates drink number twelve.

You will be back at work with these folks shortly…at least that’s the plan. Remember that your colleagues can’t unsee dances-like-Elaine-from-Seinfeld moves, Bad Santa behavior, codpieces, otherwise-hidden tramp stamps, and the like. Moderation, boring as it is, is your friend.

Next, seize this opportunity.

When I worked in a big company, this was a rare opportunity where junior people could meetthe senior executives. It’s an opportunity to show that you’re smart and interested. Here in Humboldt, we have fewer big employers, but you still have the opportunity to get to know each other in a deeper way. And maybe there is someone you’ve been meaning to network with.

Not least, you can allow yourself to have a little fun. I was at the Arcata Sunrise Rotary’s Taste of the Holidays recently, which is one big networking/party/food/beer/wine thing. I met a bunch of new people and I was more or less professional. Maybe the Mad River barleywine wasn’t my best choice, with an alcohol by volume of around 11%…but I figured it out before I spilled it on anybody. Not least, I truly had fun. It can happen.

Finally, if you throw the party, there are some additional considerations. Employers/hosts should be cautious too.
Note my title…I chose “holiday” rather than “Christmas.” It’s not because I’m part of any war on Christmas; I love Christmas. But it’s complicated. Not everyone loves or celebrates Christmas, so my advice is go with the PC flow on this one. “Holiday Party,” boring as it is, is your friend. Or have a party where you celebrate everything, which will require a good poster-maker but gets points for being inclusive and more interesting.

A few other things: Be clear about who can attend: spouses, significant others, children, etc.

Think about providing child care. Regulate the alcohol if you provide alcohol. (Maybe provide a session India Pale Ale with a 4% alcohol percentage rather than that awesome 11% barleywine.) And set a good example yourself by being moderate with the alcohol and not trying to dance with the new fresh-out-of-college hire in Marketing.

You don’t need to fear the holiday party…just have some common sense. And then have fun, in moderation.


The information provided in this blog is intended for general information purposes only. Readers should seek the help of an HR professional for guidance on specific issues.