There is perhaps no single event more threatening to one’s continued employment than the office Christmas party. This seemingly benign or even joyful event, which ostensibly brings co-workers together to celebrate the holiday season, absent from the pressures of the workplace, couldn’t be further from its intended device. Whereas the idea is to remove the hierarchies, formalities and otherwise awkward deference of working relationships in furtherance of a fraternal atmosphere, it ends up being an exercise in pretending to do the same, while being exceptionally careful to not to violate any of those hierarchies, formalities or required deferences. It’s like trying to play Operation during a seizure... while dressed in your Sunday best, and smiling until your face hurts. In short, it’s about as much fun as a cactus hug and a rubbing alcohol bath, and there’s more Christmas spirit in the Black Friday shopping queues than at one of these “parties.” But for the uninitiated, new to the corporate work force, or simply the blissfully unaware, here are 3 things not to do at your company Christmas party:
1. Tipsy Unwelcome. There aren’t many places where it’s a worse idea to get drunk than an office party. In fact, outside of court, church, and children’s birthday parties, I really couldn’t come up with one. Sure there will be alcohol there, but that entire open bar is there solely for use by the boss, the boss’ family and the warehouse/janitorial staff. The remaining liquor, beer, wine, etc. is like those towels in the guest bathroom that your wife/girlfriend will smack you if you actually use them to dry your hands. Of course, you can and should probably have some kind of drink in your hand (because the primary sin at one of these festivals of faux mirth is to appear as though you’re not having a good time), but it should slowly and tastefully disappear (no faster than one drink per hour) without any of it going down your throat. The problem with being even the slightest bit inebriated is that there are dozens of things you want to say to the folks at work, and none of which you should - and the quickest way to get those two things confused comes on the rocks with a cocktail napkin. What’s more, it’s almost certain that someone will wear or do something that will make the urge to say something that much more irresistible. The bad news about this fully stocked and fully un-usable open bar is that it is one of the few things that might make these forced get-together actually bearable, and it’d be a better idea to touch an electric fence than anything that comes over that bar. The good news, however, is that someone won’t heed this advice, and will, from then on, be “the drunk guy/girl” at the office. Here’s hoping that won’t be you.
2. Dressed Down. There is a time to be daring with your formal wear; a time to shake off the strict social morays surrounding what and what not to wear, and to take the occasion to express yourself in that most basic of ways. That time is not in front of your co-workers, your boss, and their families on a Friday night in mid-December where the goal of the event is to not be noticed, mentioned or otherwise memorable in any way. For the ladies, this means that no matter how hard you’ve been hitting the gym, or how long you’ve been dying to break out that little holiday-themed cocktail dress, this is the time to pretend you’re headed to a Little House on the Prairie costume party and to sex it up somewhere just south of Hillary Clinton in the winter. Seriously, for each inch higher than your dress is than the one the boss‘ wife is wearing, you’re about 10% more likely to be remembered as the office slut. This is time to show skin like you’re jumping into a shark tank with a bucket of chum. For the gentlemen, the dressing part is easy: suit. And by suit, I mean suit with boring tie. This is not the occasion for the horrible holiday-themed neckwear. You’re still never going to wear that. But the important thing for gents to remember is keeping dressed. Your jacket must stay on, and unless you’re sitting down, it should stay buttoned. If your tie ends up anywhere but securely tied around your neck, you might as well fashion it into a noose. I don’t care if they’ve used a 500 Watt space heater as a centerpiece and you’ve got Niagara Falls running down your back - if you don’t keep dressed like you’re at a funeral, you might very well be at one.
3. Parking On The Dance Floor. If you take nothing else away from this lesson, take this: do not dance; under any circumstances, do not dance. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing your song. It doesn’t matter if your date really wants to. It doesn’t matter if they’ve hired KC and the Sunshine Band, they hit you with a spotlight and the band is threatening to stop playing if you don’t get up. You stay glued to that seat like you’re stapled to it, and keep that look on your face like you’ve just eaten a piece of bad meat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of dancing. It’s fair to say that I love dancing, and that it might be the one activity that I just can’t do without. But you’d be better off showing up at the party naked, flipping everyone off and toasting the boss with a hearty “screw you” than to be anywhere near the dance floor. There is simply no way to dance at these events without looking like an ass. Even if you’re a good dancer, do not dance. But let’s be honest, you’re not a good dancer. You wouldn’t be a good dancer with Fred Astaire duct taped to your back. You look like you’re having a seizure in the middle of an earthquake while being attacked by bees every time you even think about dancing - and doing it in front of your co-workers will be the kind of permanently memorable horror which will stay attached to you no matter what else you do, how well you do it, or how much money you make/save the company. It would be a better idea for you to spontaneously break into dance while you’re actually at work, because at least that way (1) it’s possible no one will notice by the time you regain your sanity and (2) you might actually have a good reason (e.g. big new account, lawsuit settling, etc.). It’s a sure bet that neither one of those is true if you make the mistake of braving the dance floor at your company’s Xmas event.
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No matter what the flyer says, no matter what the boss might tell you, and no matter what you think a holiday party should be about, there are only two things you should be trying to accomplish at this work function: (1) making certain there is some type of evidence (preferably photographic) that you attended and (2) making certain that’s the only way anyone remembers that you did. A corporate Christmas party is a whole lot more about “corporate” than it is about “Christmas” - in fact, that’s really all it’s about. In a time where employment has never been a more tenuous proposition, and the new year invites companies to take a fresh look at cutting costs (like labor), ‘tis the season for keeping the spotlight (and the target) off of you.