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How to work your office holiday party

You're not officially on the clock, and of course you're supposed to enjoy yourself. But that doesn't mean putting a lampshade on your head. Here's how to schmooze properly.

By Money Staff Nov 25, 2013 4:24PM

This post comes from Donna Fuscaldo at partner site Fox Business News.


Fox Business News on MSN MoneyHoliday office parties are a time to interact with colleagues outside office walls and get into the holiday spirit, but they also offer the opportunity to advance your career.


People standing with glasses during office party © Frederic Cirou/Getty Images
While experts advise against walking into a party with the sole purpose of getting ahead, they say your behavior can leave a lasting impression.


"If you think about the holiday party as a way to advance your career the insincerity of your efforts will be recognized by others," says Peter Post, author of "Essential Manners For Men" and director of the Emily Post Institute. "What you want to do is represent yourself as a reasonable fun person to be with."


The first step of office party etiquette is accepting the invitation in a prompt manner. Nothing can be more annoying to a host than having to track down invitees and responding right away shows your enthusiasm and that you respect the host's efforts.

Dressing appropriately for the event is also paramount. After all, you want people to talk about how witty and smart you are not about your too-tight sweater or ripped jeans. Etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore recommends finding out the dress code ahead of time and assessing your wardrobe to find an outfit that meets expectations.


While you want to dress festive, steer clear of outfits with overt messages, recommends Aravinda Rao Souza, senior marketing manager at recruitment software company Bullhorn.


"'Merry Christmas' might seem innocent enough on a sweater, but it's Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, post-Diwali, or potentially no holiday at all for other people in your office," she says. "Going too crazy with the holiday theme is also just a little tacky. Dress like you are attending a charity event where there would be both children and adults present."


If your invite includes a plus one, choose your guest wisely. The office party is not the proper setting for a first date or someone you don't know well, and make sure the person doesn't drink or eat too much and maintains a level of professionalism.


Prior to the event, experts recommend researching executives and other higher-ups that might be in attendance in case you have the opportunity to chat with them.


The holiday party "is an excellent time to introduce yourself to the CEO if the time is right," says Pamela Eyring, president of the Protocol School of Washington. "But do it correctly: Don't call him or her by their first name, but use their honorific (Mr., Ms. or Dr.) and their last name. Introduce yourself with your first and last name and which department you presently work.  Don't bring up any issues or concerns -- definitely a turn-off.  Instead, comment on the most recent press release about the company."


While you want to get some face time with the bosses, don’t limit your interactions to just the higher ups. Work the room and use the holiday party as an opportunity to meet new people or to get to know people you’ve worked with on a project better.


"You never know who you'll work for someday so treat each guest you meet, even peers, like they are special," says Eyring. "Show off how you are confident socially by speaking to others, making introductions and even remembering names. Your protocol and etiquette intelligence will shine and the people you meet will not forget you."


One of the biggest blunders people make at the holiday party is drinking too much alcohol, which is why career experts recommend setting (and sticking to) a one-to-two-drink limit.

"When you drink too much, you could potentially make a fool of yourself," says Whitmore. "You have to think about the office party as a business event."


Helping to organize the event can also help make a good impression with your managers, says Rao Souza. Whether it's sending out invitations, making a music play list or cleaning up after everyone goes home, taking initiative can leave a good impression.


"Take an active interest in making sure that the people who would otherwise be doing all the work and flying under the radar get the credit and help they deserve," she says. "You will be noticed for being kind and a good co-worker."


More from Fox Business News:

Nov 25, 2013 9:09PM

One of the best things about being retired is not having to go to any more office Xmas parties!


My theory is that 80% of the employees at an office Xmas party would rather be almost any place else.


I always showed up as late as I could get away with and left as early as possible.


I mean, I see these people at work during the week -- I have no interest in socializing with them at some lame Xmas party.

Nov 25, 2013 11:03PM
Office Holiday Party?  Oh, you must mean that Holiday potluck thingy in the break room.  
Nov 25, 2013 9:51PM

Bring 3 really hot hookers to the party and turn them loose, the guys will all be envious and the women will all be wondering how you scored 3 babes and don't care if you loose them or not.

Nov 25, 2013 10:55PM

I used to work the 'night supervisor' position at a trucking company, and of course, the Christmas party was always held on a Friday evening, when I had to be at work by 11pm.

I'd go for the 'free meal', have a couple mixed drinks and then split about the time the band started setting up.  The meal was always great, usually T-Bones with all the trimmings?

I really liked most of the people I worked with, but I didn't socialize with them the rest of the year.  Work environments are not the place to 'hook up' with someone who could torpedo your career? 

As a supervisor with management authority, I could 'step on people' at times, and it sometimes left bad feelings...  Day dispatchers were notorious for not entering info into the computer.  When a driver delivered at 1am, and there was nothing in the computer 'Go get some sleep!'  Next morning, the dispatcher would go ballistic, because 'I had a load for him in my drawer!'  Oh, well, why wasn't it in the computer then? 

I'm retired now, and don't miss the company-sponsored Christmas Party?  Kind of like being a County Cop...  Yup, did that too, back in the 1970's...  Too much politics.  Became a truck driver, then advanced.  Always remembered all the politics.  Work-place is no different.

Nov 26, 2013 10:08AM
The office Holiday Party - Otherwise known as "The Backstabber's Ball"
Nov 25, 2013 10:56PM
economy sucks....there won't be very many parties
Nov 26, 2013 9:29AM
Another year, another party.  I feel obligated to go but would much rather be home in my jammies.
Nov 26, 2013 8:51AM
#1. Don't go! I spend enough time at work to spend after hours time at a "party". No thanks.
Nov 26, 2013 10:42AM
I used to look forward to a party around the holidays, but the last couple of years, management "forgot" to invite the people that actually do the job.
Nov 26, 2013 10:02AM
They forgot one.  Have John McClane there....just in case.
Nov 26, 2013 10:13AM

Interesting to hear all these people with dead ends jobs badmouthing the company Christmas party.  It's the one time you can talk to people above you, make a good informal impression and set yourself up for being noticed for what you do. 

Whether you like it or not, office politics are alive and well.  Bad mouth them if you want, but then don't complain about your dead end hourly job complaining about how no one notices you.

Nov 26, 2013 6:11AM
Aww the office xmas party, the one time of the year where it's acceptable to be drunk at the workplace.
Dec 3, 2013 9:59PM
Wow, Old Typist, that is perfect.   I used to work in a "civil service" job.   I went to one party in ten years and it was pathetic to watch a group of people who only had jobs because of the EEOC stand in a corner and snicker and try to get really bad photos of people so they looked like they had one too many.  I never attended a CHRISTMAS PARTY again.   How sad, right?  
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