By Caroline M.L. Potter
If your employer is hosting a holiday party this year, it may be a more modest affair than in years past in light of the economy. "The parties aren't going to be as big this year -- but they will be more intimate," says Jacqueline Whitmore, author of Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work. A smaller setting may put you closer to colleagues, thus magnifying any faux pas.
Use these tips to make sure you don't do or say the wrong thing in front of the right people.
- Bring an Uninvited Guest: Smaller parties may mean that spouses and partners are not included in the festivities, even if they have been in years past. "If you're not sure if you can bring a guest, you should definitely ask," Whitmore says. "If it's not indicated that a guest is invited, be polite and honor that request."
- Overindulge: "One of my pet peeves is when I see people drink too much at parties," Whitmore says. "It's still an extension of the office, so you should act in a professional manner. You don't want to be the topic of conversation at the water cooler on Monday morning." Also, she reminds revelers not to put anyone on the spot by asking why another guest is abstaining from alcohol. "We live in a health-conscious society," she says. "It's a personal choice."
- Talk Shop: Keep business discussions very brief. "If you've got spouses and partners in the conversation, they often won't have any idea what you're going on about, so you're just being a bore," Whitmore says. Remember, too, that this is downtime. "Don't burden a coworker with your problems," she says. "Leave the office at the office."
- Gossip or Tell Off-Color Jokes: People tend to be a little more relaxed at office parties, and if they have a few drinks, they may say things they normally would not. "Be mindful of what you say -- the jokes, the comments," Whitmore says. "We're human. We want to have fun, but be mindful that it's a company event. There's still a level of professionalism you must maintain."
- Bring a Guest If You Can: "I think it's a good idea to bring a guest if you can," Whitmore says. "It gives people a better idea of who you are as a person. Your colleagues get to see another side of your life -- and you theirs."
- Get to Know Your Boss and Your Boss's Boss: Use the office party as an opportunity to rub elbows with executives at your company with whom you don't usually interact. "You can't always get close to senior executives or partners at the office because they're so busy, but in a social environment, they're more open to small talk," Whitmore says. She recommends introducing yourself on a personal level and asking about hobbies or interests. "This is a key opportunity," she says. "Take advantage of it."
- Dress Professionally: "My biggest pet peeve is when I see people dressed provocatively at office parties," Whitmore says. "This is an extension of the office. It's not the time to wear the dress with the slit up to your hip." Wear something a bit more festive than you might wear to work, but more conservative than what you would wear to a nightclub. "Keep an air of professionalism in mind when you choose your attire," she says.
- Keep Things Light and Fun: There's a lot of gloom and doom in the news -- and perhaps at your company as well. Try to banish the dark clouds for the duration of the party with a sunny attitude. "It's tough for people to stay away from these topics because that's all we hear all day long," Whitmore says. "But it can bring everybody's mood down." Focus on positive events and the spirit of the season to avoid ruining the party for your colleagues.