Keeping it Classy at the Office Holiday Party

A group of festively dressed dogs

For many people, putting the words “office” and “party” together can come across as an inherently confusing oxymoron. An office is a place of work; a party is a place of play. How does one merge the two?

Judging by the amount of tips online for just such an occasion (and how many of those articles use the word “surviving”), it’s no surprise that many also find the idea a tad nerve-racking.

If you’re one of these people, never fear! These tips (helpfully illustrated by puppies) should help you get through it and even have some fun. Basically, you can boil them all down into one simple word: class.

1) Don’t end up wearing the lampshade. The first rule of holiday party etiquette is: Watch your drinking. This may seem simple, but best intentions can easily go out the window when we a) feel anxious or b) want to go along with the crowd. This doesn’t mean a drink to take the edge off isn’t allowed — after all, it’s a party. As lawyers, you never want to compromise the trust that your clients and colleagues place in you. Set a personal limit, stick to it, eat some lean protein at the buffet, and stay hydrated.





2) Participate… The classic example of a holiday party activity is karaoke (or so the blogosphere would have us believe). Your instinct may be to assume the role of wallflower, but keep in mind that a party is a golden opportunity for bonding with your colleagues. So when in doubt, join in, and remember, there’s strength in numbers. But if you’re cringing just thinking about it, or it’s more important to you to maintain your professionalism, don’t feel bad about sitting it out.

…but keep it tasteful. Anything that puts you in the spotlight — karaoke, charades, a roast — means toeing the line between appearing to have (and hopefully actually having) fun while not showboating in a way that will make you want to hide behind the copy machine the next day. Know your audience: is “The Thong Song” really the best choice, or would a little Sam Cooke be better? If you’re not sure, go with the safe option.

3) Dress appropriately. Look at the invite and the venue to gauge a dress code, or ask colleagues what they’re planning to wear. Choose festive colors and avoid anything racy: an office party is no time to dally in the grey area between the naughty and the nice list. And unless it’s black-tie, a classic holiday sweater is always a crowd-pleaser.






4) Don’t bring party crashers. Some office parties are for staff only, and you wouldn’t want to be the only one who showed up with an outsider. If guests are welcome, you’re most likely limited to one. Choose wisely, because this person also represents you — an especially significant consideration for anyone in the legal profession. Of course you want to bring a fun guest, but you also don’t want a potential Lampshade Hat on your hands. Save the wild-card friends for the parties that don’t have any bearing on your livelihood.

5) Don’t ignore your date. If you do bring a date — romantic or otherwise — don’t maroon them. Make sure to introduce them around and include them in your conversations. If you can, follow the sage advice from Bridget Jones’ Diary and “introduce people with thoughtful details.” With an opener like, “John, this is my friend Sarah — she ran in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon this year, just like you,” the conversation will be off and running with no awkward pauses.

Speaking of conversation:

6) Don’t gossip. Just don’t.

7) Don’t hog the conversation. Remember to listen to others and really take in what they’re saying. Make guests feel welcome, but don’t feel like it’s your job to fill every silence. And for Pete’s sake, talk about something other than the legal profession!

8) Don’t flirt, except with your date, and keep PDA to a minimum. Definitely don’t (even teasingly) hit on any of your colleagues — misunderstandings of this variety can be hard to reverse, and lawyers know how easily they can turn into legal matters. It’s not worth the risk.


A few words on gift-giving:

9) Do plan a group gift for the boss. All it takes is one person to organize it, send out a few ideas, and purchase the gift. Keep a hidden envelope in the office where people can slyly deposit their contributions; tech-savvy colleagues may prefer virtual money transfers. Ideally, this happens a few weeks in advance to allow time for shipment, so, like…now. If no one has volunteered, appoint yourself! Your boss will appreciate it and you’ll get major office kudos.

10) Avoid Secret Santa “gag” gifts. In general, don’t give anything that has the potential to be offensive and/or immediately tossed in the trash. That bacon-scented body spray may seem hilarious to you, but will the recipient think so? Try giving an experience rather than a space-wasting knick-knack. Plus, if you give, say, a pair of movie tickets, there’s always a chance they’ll invite you.

11) Don’t bring coworker gifts unless you have something for the whole class. If you have a gift for a coworker you’re closer with, skip the party and give it to them privately later.

And before you leave…

12) Thank your host(s). Mind your Ps and Qs! Most likely, a few colleagues put a lot of work into organizing this party, and they will really appreciate if you take the time to thank them for their efforts.