Office Party Etiquette: Five Situations, Five Solutions

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Ah, the holiday season magical time of year associated with snow-laden pine trees, ribbons and wrapping paper, the smell of gingerbread and sugar cookies . . . and office parties.

Whether you can wait to mix and mingle with your co-workers, or whether you’d gladly give your raise and promotion to get a pass, attending the office party is, simply, a part of your job. This article explores five common situations associated with the office party, and shows you how to handle them.

Situation: The party includes a cankee Swap?or secret Santa?and you need to buy a gift. You’re struggling between purchasing something that shows your lighter side, such as a stuffed likeness of your boss’s head mounted like a deer, or something safe, like a scented candle. Which gift should you go with?

Solution: Go with the safer gift. While it’s okay to let down your hair a bit, remember that office parties are business events. Keep your gift professional and impersonal, and never bring anything silly or inappropriate. You never know who might be offended.

Situation: A co-worker introduces you to someone you don’t know. You fiddle with your cocktails napkin as the sound of crickets grows louder, wondering what to say next.

Solution: Arm yourself with some good open-ended conversation starters, such as “What do you do when you are not working?” and “Tell me about . . . . “ The key to a good conversation starter is that it allows others to talk.

Situation: The bar is stocked, the music is cranked, and a lively group has commandeered a nearby tabletop and is dancing to “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” One more drink, and you think you’ll be ready to join them.

Solution: Even if you move like Madonna and are feeling the vibe—don’t. Your employers probably spent a lot of money on the party and want to see you having fun, but having too much fun can put the kibosh on career advancement.  Most people are uninhibited when they drink, so put a limit on the amount of drinks you are going to have before you take the first sip.

Situation: The band has warmed up, and the dance floor is starting to fill up. A boss or co-worker asks you to dance. Should you?

Solution: In this situation, the answer really depends upon your company culture. If there’s even a tiny piece of you that thinks your acceptance—or the dance itself—might be misinterpreted by co-workers and colleagues, say no. Use some professional humor to soften the situation by saying something like, “The last guy I danced with ended up needing crutches to get down his career path.” Then engage the person in some conversation, so he doesn’t feel dissed.

Situation:  The boss of your boss is across the room, and you would really like some face time with her. You’ve rarely been in the same room and have never spoken, and you know she could have a massive impact on your career trajectory.

Solution: By all means, go over and introduce yourself. The office party is a great time to network with the folks you may not regularly get to see, such as top management. Just be sure to follow a few simple rules: don’t dominate the conversation, don’t whine and complain about the company, don’t brag about your accomplishments, and don’t bore her to tears with constant business talk.

Just like Santa’s reindeer, the annual office holiday party can be counted on to return year after year. Whether you can’t wait for the office party or can’t wait for it to be over, proper office party etiquette will ensure you have an office to go to at all.

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