Matthew Green, marketing manager at Corky's Catering in Chicago, has witnessed a lot of inappropriate behavior while working corporate holiday parties. There's the typical stuff like too much drinking and flirting with co-workers. But among the most uncouth was the time he witnessed a woman wrap shrimp into a napkin and stuff it into her purse.
"It's a high-priced item, so I guess people want it," says Green.
What would make anyone risk being known as the office’s “Shrimp Lady"? Chalk it up as just another miraculous mystery of the holiday party season, when bosses become buffoons and martini-soaked office mates turn mischievous.
This year, 94 percent of businesses will throw a holiday celebration, according to executive search firm Battalia Winston International. That's a 7 percent increase from 2005. While alluring plates of seafood may pose a few problems, it’s alcohol that is usually behind most talked-about holiday party high jinks. This year, 86 percent of companies will serve alcoholic beverages. While it’s appropriate to have a drink or two, remember the Office Party Golden Rule: Don't do anything you'd be embarrassed to read about in the company newsletter.
It’s a simple stricture, but not everyone abides by it. There was, for example, the woman who showed up to a holiday party Green catered who was dressed as a sexed-up elf. She wore a miniskirt, a push-up bra that left little to the imagination and a Santa hat. That would be an attention-grabber most nights, but it was especially awkward since the other guests were wearing business attire.
Another fashion tip: Leave your holiday ornaments at home, says Courtney Church, a partner at Boston event-planning firm Corinthian Events. "They don’t make great earrings or sweater enhancements," she says. Also, what you think of as a silly pose at the party may not be so funny when it's forwarded to the entire staff the next day.
Bryan Jacobson, owner of Manhattan-based events company CEM, has also seen plenty of no-nos. His clientele tends to skew younger — employees in their 20s, 30s and 40s — so he throws plenty of holiday parties at hip New York City night clubs. He's seen everything from drug use to infidelity. Many of his parties feature dancers who get party-goers off their chairs and boogying.
On more than one occasion an attendee got way out of line. "The dancers said that people offered to take them home," Jacobson says.
Keep in mind that holiday parties are so much more than an opportunity to embarrass yourself. If you treat it properly, it can be a great place to network with the higher-ups and staffers you don't normally work with. Try not to talk about work, outside of questions like "What do you do for the company?" This is a time to talk about people's interests outside of the office. You might wind up meeting someone who can open doors for you later on.
That's why if you're thinking of not going, think again. "The biggest mistake people make is not showing up," says John Challenger, CEO of outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Most important, don't call in sick the next day. No matter what, nobody will believe you.