How To Survive the Holiday Office Party

‘Tis the season for everything from Black Friday Shopping to holiday work parties to huge New Year’s Eve bashes and more! And of course, all of the awkward social interactions in between. There is no better time of year to brush up on your conversation skills and have an arsenal of go-to conversation starters in your back pocket.

Unfortunately, the same social etiquette is not accepted at every holiday gathering so we have made a Holiday Survival Guide to help you succeed at those work soirees this holiday season. Follow the tips below and you’ll be confident and well prepared with the perfect conversation topics for the event!

Before we begin, let’s address those who think they can skip out on their company’s holiday party. Please DO NOT miss this event. Even if you’re nervous about what to say, know that your absence will be noticed and it will reflect poorly on your team spirit and dedication to the company.

If you’re double-booked make an effort to at least show some facetime at the event and be sure to let your boss and co-workers know in advance that you have been double booked. Once you have decided which of these events you are attending and you have RSVP’d it is time to prepare.

What to Expect

A holiday work party is often held in the office with light food and cocktails. Whether you’ll be attending a grand ballroom holiday soiree or a small gathering with a holiday wreath and music between cubicles it’s important to show excitement about the event.

This is a great opportunity to get to know your co-workers, learn about your boss on a more personal level, and enjoy mingling in the office without feeling like you should be doing any work. Be prepared to make engaging conversations and build rapport with your colleagues.

What to Wear

Dress up for your work party. If there is a theme it’s best to follow suit, we know ugly-sweater parties are all the rage currently. If there isn’t a theme, wear something fancier than you would wear to the office on a regular day, however follow the typical work guidelines or dress code (AKA – Please don’t dress too scandalous)

The invitation may state if the event is formal or black tie. If not, think business wear with a touch of flash. Switch out those flats for heels and your regular button up for a nice blouse. Men can add a touch of class by adding a jacket or tie.

It doesn’t matter how close the office party is to the end of your work day, do not wear the same outfit you wore to work to the party. You want to show you’re feeling the holiday spirit so bring a change of clothes to the office with you if necessary.

Stuck with an outfit that still looks too much like you’re headed for the conference room? Ladies, change your hair. If you usually wear it up, let it down for the evening. A simple change in your hairstyle can have a drastic impact. It will seem as though your look as changed immensely and that you have put in extra time to prepare.

When to Arrive

Be on time, and be helpful. A work party is not the best opportunity to show up fashionably late. These are your colleagues and bosses and although it’s a fun event you should still be on time. If there is anything that still needs to be set up, offer to help out.

This shows that you care for the company and that you are a team player. Most holiday parties outside of the business hours last between 2-3 hours. Just make sure while you’re at the party to make rounds and talk to everyone. That way if you sneak out a little early no one will mind.

Who to Talk To

Your holiday bash will most likely involve playing a bit of office politics. As much as you may like to, it’s not the best manners to simply bring your date and hang out in the corner with them and the free drinks for the entire evening. There are a few people who you must speak to before the night comes to a close & be sure to prioritize your conversations to hit the most important ones first.

First, find whoever organized or hosted the party. Let them know you appreciate everything that went into planning such an amazing event. Next, be sure to speak with any colleagues you work with on a regular basis. Introduce them to your date, if you brought one, and meet their significant other. Their family may have only heard about you through your colleague, so throw on the charm & make an awesome impression.

Next, be sure to speak with your boss or supervisor. This conversation does not need to be long but it is an opportunity to have your boss see you outside of work and potentially get to know you a little better. Try to avoid talking work and make a point of asking quality questions that allow you to get to know them on a more personal level.

If the CEO or President of the company is in attendance be sure to say hello to them as well. If they don’t know you by name this is a great time to re-introduce yourself in a non-threatening environment. Lastly, be sure to say hi to any of your assistants or receptionists. These are the people who can make or break your entire day at work, so give them some love.

What to Talk About

A great way to jumpstart a conversation, especially with your boss is with a compliment. Everyone will have made an effort to look nice and commenting on their outfit, shoes, purse, hair, watch, or jewelry can help you stay in their good graces. Ensure your compliments are sincere and genuine, no one likes a kiss up.

For example, if you compliment someone on owning a fine timepiece you’re noticing something valuable that they had to save for to obtain. Whereas if you choose to compliment your boss on their eye color, although a nice gesture, it’s not as powerful because that feature is a given.

Avoid the MSRP topics during conversation.

  • Money - This is not the time to ask for a raise or discuss the Christmas bonus. Save it for a more formal situation.
  • Sex - Remember, you're still at work so keep it classy. This also means keep the flirting and PDA to a minimum.
  • Religion - Religion has started more wars throughout history than we care to count. This topic at a holiday party can be discussed as far as what holiday you celebrate, but please don't start a debate.
  • Politics - Although the three ring circus of today may seem a tempting topic, starting a political movement at the office party is a poor choice.

Keep shop talk to a minimum. Work talk may arise as it is the common denominator for everyone at the party, however do your best to steer conversations toward getting to know other’s hobbies, passions, or interests outside of work. You never know what you might learn!

When talking work, highlight positive traits about your co-workers and your boss. This is a good time to express satisfaction with the working environment and you can even share a short success story.

If you have nothing positive to say about your fellow employees then stick to talking about the office party. Compliment the catering or the decorations. Refrain from any gossip or negative speak about the workplace while in attendance.

If work does come up while speaking to your supervisor this is when you may mention an idea that can help build company morale. Be lighthearted and don’t bring up a topic that requires major policy changes or a proper sit-down discussion. This is time to unwind so keep things light.

An example of an appropriate suggestion may be that each week the team votes for an MVP employee and that person gets a candy bucket on their desk for the week. This will encourage team members to walk by and say hello throughout the day while picking up a sweet treat. Each week the bucket is moved to a different MVP’s desk.

Remember to greet your boss’s spouse with enthusiasm. No one has your boss’s ear quite like their significant other. Be kind, polite, and make them feel comfortable. A positive impression on the spouse will surely make its way back to the boss.

The Wrap Up

Remember, your holiday party is meant to be fun, and the purpose is to allow the employees to celebrate a long year of hard work. So take time to enjoy, have a drink but be responsible. Be yourself, dress nice and try to be comfortable.

If you’re still anxious about your business holiday party, click here to learn more about how to engage in meaningful conversations, including a list of amazing conversation starters, and ways to know that you will always have something interesting to say no matter what the conversation topic.

About the Author

Brandon & Sam currently live in Raleigh, NC and coach motivated professionals how to accelerate their careers, build quality relationships, and unleash their inner-awesome through teaching the secrets of charisma.

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