What a stressful year. Gyrating markets, high unemployment and a continuing European debt crisis that may augur worldwide economic disaster. You’d think that at the office holiday party you could grab a glass of bubbly, let your hair down and speak your mind.
Don’t do it. The office fête is not the place for unconstrained chatter. It’s also not the place for personal confession, expressions of frustration or speechifying about what you’d do with the company if you were in charge.
Instead, remember that you are at a professional function and behave that way. That means listening as much as talking, keeping your conversation on safe subjects like hobbies, movies or family and deferring to superiors.
“Don’t outshine people who need the spotlight, or hold some aspect of job security in your hands,” advises John Challenger, chief executive of the worldwide outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. “The holiday party is a great time to build relationships. Don’t get into behaviors that might cause relationships to deteriorate or be damaged.”
John Bliss, the founder of BlissPR in Manhattan, doesn’t take any chances. For more than 15 years he has insisted that his employees attend a pre-party pizza dinner. He orders enough pies for the 30-member staff at around 4:30 in the afternoon and watches to make sure everyone has a few slices. It’s a guarantee no one will be drinking on an empty stomach.
“It’s like blotting paper,” he says. “That way, you can have fun without getting embarrassed.” Companies like BlissPR have a lot at stake. When they invite clients to their parties, the last thing they need is a drunken staffer.
More companies are serving alcohol at holiday parties this year, according to an annual survey on holiday celebrations by the executive search firm Battalia Winston Amrop. Seventy-six percent of companies say they plan to serve alcoholic beverages, up from 73 percent last year. Alcohol service hit a high in 2000, when 90 percent of firms offered it, according to the 23 years of Battalia reports.
The dangers of excessive alcohol consumption are well known, but cautionary tales are worth retelling: Annmarie Woods recalls a holiday gathering a few years ago for her sales team at a leading financial services firm. The group began the evening at a downtown restaurant and then headed to a dance club. The evening being celebratory, their boss picked up the bill for a limousine to get them from the restaurant to the club. While en route, one of the staffers vomited into Woods’ purse.
“The next day at the meeting, everyone was talking about it. Their opinion of her had been altered,” Woods puts it mildly.
The office party offers a unique opportunity to bond with superiors and colleagues. But don’t blow it. “If you can’t keep a lid on it, don’t go to it,” Challenger advises.
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© 2012 Forbes.com