You see the signs or you get the emails:
“Co-workers. Party. Christmas? Coincidence.”
Yes, it’s the office holiday party.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Ugh, I don’t want to go, but I feel like I have to.” And you’re right. You do have to go. It’s in the handbook.
I know what else you’re thinking: “Whatever, it’s a party. I know how to go to a party. I’ve been going to parties since I could jump in a bounce house.” And you’re wrong. You might know how to go to parties, but that does not mean you can navigate office parties, especially Office Holiday Parties.
This is where I come in.
I have been in the professional work force for almost a decade. Over those years, I’ve been to several varieties of office holiday parties:
- the “intimate” ones with your scary boss and three co-workers;
- the blow-out ones hosted by your huge law firm at the peak of the Big Money Years;
- the tail-between-leg ones hosted by that same huge law firm after the bubble burst; and
- the earnest ones thrown on the premises of the small business.
And kids, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter what shade of office holiday party it is. The same rules apply. Follow them, and you’ll enjoy continued success as a productive member of society with a taxable income and an unlimited supply of pens.
Rule #1: Do Not Show Up On Time
This part should be easy. Being “casually late” is one of the first social cues we absorb. The only hard part will be identifying the appropriate “casually-late” window. Here’s a tip: The longer the party, the bigger the window. So, if the party is only scheduled to last from 6-8, show up around 6:15. Got a 6-9’er on your hands? Show up around 6:30. Et cetera.
Why is this so critical?
Only a small number of people arrive on time. If you are one of them, you will either (a) get conscripted into helping with last-minute details; (b) become stuck in an extended conversation with Mailroom Marty about three-hole punches that causes you to miss the arrival of people who talk about non-office products; or (c) stand awkwardly by yourself near the fake fireplace for all your colleagues to see as they enter at the appropriate casually-late time.
Being late is just as bad, though. If you arrive post-throng, your boss and Keeping-Tabs Katie from Marketing do not notice your attendance. That means you will spend the next day insisting, in a higher-than-usual pitch, that you were indeed there. You will hear yourself give embarrassingly specific details about where you stood and what you did to prove it. You will wonder why the figgy pudding made such an impression that you described it down to the last spice.
Rule #2: Wear Something You Can Rely On
This is not – I repeat, NOT – the occasion to try out your new wrap dress or test whether you can rock a wedge heel. Your ensemble should be comprised of nothing but Old Faithfuls. You need to be able to bend over, wave, and walk with unshakable confidence.
Rule #3: Identify Your Wing-Person
This may be the most important Rule of all. Without a solid ally, you will have no way to avoid Back-Slapping Brian from Sales and no one to corroborate your story about Giggly Gloria from HR proclaiming the party a disaster because the bubble machine stopped working. Your wing-person should be someone who excels at speaking out of the corner of his/her mouth, instinctively knows when to feign serious conversation, and makes small talk a performance art. Find this person, and never let him/her go.
Rule #4: Eat Something Beforehand
We all know it’s dangerous to do certain things on an empty stomach. Add “attending office holiday party” to the list, and read on.
Rule #5: Do Not Eat Anything There
I’m sorry. I don’t care how delicious it looks. Do. Not. Eat. It. The spinach will get stuck in your teeth, or the cheese will refuse to be bitten into, or the sauce will fall on your shirt, or the chocolate will get stuck in your hair. Then you’re an embarrassing mess of a person who can’t even feed herself, so how on earth can you be trusted with a “Reply All” email function or speaking privileges?
Rule #6: Drink, But Not Too Much
If you’re of legal age and not medically ineligible for the activity, go ahead and enjoy a cocktail. You can hold the glass, which gives you something to do with your hands, and you can drink the liquid, which gives you something to lubricate your brain. It also gives you an easy conversation piece: “What are you drinking? . . . A martini? Oh, cool. This is a beer.” And, you’re off!
But. BUT. You must never, ever, EVER drink too much at your office holiday party. You do that and, long story short, you’ll be forced to quit. Just trust me here. Plastered Polly does not become Promoted Polly because she will forever be remembered as the girl who tried to get Alan from Accounting to Gangnam Style with her…atop the photocopier.
Rule #7: Participate, But Not Too Much
Is there a D.J.? Are you at an ice rink? How many arcade games are within reach?
Dance, skate, and play; however, never do anything choreographed, never dust off your triple salchow, and never play the one that bleeps or blings loudly. You need to walk the fine line between engaging in the entertainment and becoming the entertainment.
Rule #8: Leave Early
Yes, you arrived late. Now leave early. The longer you stay, the more opportunity you’re giving the night to take a turn south. Almost nothing good happens after The Boss makes his or her remarks. Stay for those and then politely slip out. If you don’t, you may find yourself scaling a chain-link fence with Ruth from Records and Clive from Compliance being chased by a burly doorman demanding – in Spanish – that you put down the inflatable palm tree.
All right. You’re ready. I can feel it.
Now, go make me proud!