The Office Party Mistake Etiquette Experts Say You Should Avoid “At All Costs”

Don’t make this faux pas.

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It may have only been two years since your last in-person office party — but for some, that’s enough to forget every bit of protocol required. That, coupled with the fact that millions of people have been working from home for an extended period of time, means it’s likely many want to run for the hills at the thought of this year’s return to physical work events. However, said return is pretty much inevitable — and according to etiquette experts, it is important to show face, no matter how much you’re dreading it. Thus, brushing up on the proper approach to holiday office parties is not only recommended, but crucial to ensuring you don’t commit any faux pas as you re-enter the event circuit.

While that probably sounds daunting, there’s really no reason to stress. As the experts TZR spoke to noted, there are only a few simple rules to abide by when it comes to these types of gatherings. And they’re nothing complicated; in fact, much of it is etiquette you’d use in the office, just applied to a (probably boozy) event.

Don’t let being out of practice convince you to RSVP “no” this year. Instead, brush up on your skills so you’ll be ready to party the night away (professionally, of course) with the advice, ahead.

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Do Your Best To Attend

The office holiday party may not be your most anticipated event of the year — but according to Christin Gomes, one of the co-founders of etiquette and lifestyle coaching company Common Courtesy, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to attend. “Depending on your office culture, participation in office parties and events or the lack thereof, can be indirectly viewed positively or negatively by leadership and other colleagues,” she tells TZR. “Everyone loves a team player, and ultimately your attendance at social events can have some bearing on future opportunities.” Etiquette expert Carey Sue Vega of Expeditions in Etiquette agrees. “Not showing up may give the impression that you don’t care about your job or your fellow employees.”

That said, you may not always be able to attend — and that’s OK. “In the current climate, it is completely understandable if one doesn’t feel comfortable in large social situations. It’s also acceptable to decline an office party if you have a personal conflict on the date and time of the event,” says Gomes. If that’s the case, just be sure to communicate your absence.

To do this, Gomes explains that you can simply decline the calendar invite sent out with a brief response stating your reason. “Try something like, ‘Thank you for the invite! I have a personal conflict at this time, but hope to catch up with the team at the next event.’” In addition, she continues, it’s a good idea to tell your direct team you won’t be attending.

In General, Arrive On Time

According to Vega, arriving as close to “on time” as possible is ideal for most parties — too early, and you risk stressing out the host, and too late, they may think you forgot. That said, if it’s a cocktail party with more of a “come-and-go” situation, Vega says it’s “perfectly fine” to be fashionably late, as long as you’re not showing up 30 minutes before the party is supposed to end.

As for how long you should stay? Vega says this also depends on what kind of event it is. “If it’s a come-and-go cocktail party, you need to stick around for about an hour,” she shares. “You can definitely stay longer, but don’t overstay your welcome. Make sure you start to head out a bit before the end-time stated on the invitation.” And when you do leave, don’t ever forget to say thank you to the host (and, in this case, your boss). “If you think ‘Oh, I’ll just sneak out, they’ll never know,’ more than likely you will be missed and you’ll leave the host wondering if everything is OK.”

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Follow Guest Rules

When it comes to guests at holiday office parties, the rules are clear. “Do not invite your spouse or a guest to a company event unless it is explicitly stated that guests are allowed,” says Ida Gibson, another co-founder of Common Courtesy. And if they are allowed? Be very selective, she stresses. “Make sure your guest can remain professional and is comfortable with small talk with new people. Invite someone you know and trust.” This isn’t the time to bring someone you just met.

Drinking Is Fine — To A Point

Though Gomes notes that there’s nothing wrong with having a cocktail at an office party, both she and Vega say that you should limit yourself to one to two drinks at most. “We’ve all heard stories about coworkers that got too drunk at the office party and completely embarrassed themselves. Don’t let that be you!” says Gomes.

That said, peer pressure at parties does happen, especially in situations where others have been drinking. To keep from going over your intended limit in that case, Gomes suggests asking the bartender for a “mixed” non-alcoholic beverage such as club soda with lime “so that you don’t have to deal with the interrogation from coworkers asking why you don’t have a drink in your hand.”

Venture Out Of Your Inner Circle

It’s all too easy to stick with your closest colleagues at work parties, especially if you’re on the shyer side. But as Vega puts it? “​​Refrain from holding court in the corner with your bestie.”

“Office parties are excellent networking opportunities and a great way to form relationships with colleagues you don’t work with every day,” explains Gibson. So, challenge yourself to mingle with some new people. “Set a personal goal to speak to three different people from different departments,” suggests Vega. “Ask THEM questions; maybe what their plans are over the office break. By asking them open-ended questions and getting THEM to talk, it takes the pressure off of you and creates a much more comfortable conversation.”

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Be Careful About Your Conversation Topics

You probably already avoid sensitive topics like religion and politics in the office. According to Gomes, you should also avoid these at the holiday party “at all costs.” As Vega explains, “You never know who will be there, such as a current or potential client.”

If someone does happen to start an uncomfortable discussion or say something inappropriate, Gomes recommends changing the subject quickly. “Try something like, ‘Oh, I would rather talk about something a little lighter, I heard you like XYZ, tell me more about it.’” Vega even suggests coming up with a few things you can say before the party in case there’s an awkward situation in which you need to switch gears.

In the same vein, Gomes also stresses that it’s important not to gossip or criticize others at a work function. “Understand that anything you do or say at an office party can make its way back to the office. Even if you aren’t actively participating in the conversation, you can be guilty by association.” If it happens, use the same strategy as above or find a way to remove yourself from the conversation.

Dress Professionally

It may be a party, but both Gibson and Vega warn against dressing unprofessionally. “Even though it is a party, you are still in a work environment,” says Gibson. Vega shares similar thoughts, saying that you should use good judgement. “Don’t wear something too casual like jeans, or something that would be better suited for a night out at the club with friends,” she says. “You can dress up and have fun, but keep it professional.”