Office Holiday Party Survival Guide

Chelsy Meyer  | 

Office parties are great. The boss is a little more laid back, coworkers aren’t as stressed, the atmosphere is festive, and there might even be free booze. However, don’t let the champagne and Santa hats fool you—you’re still at a work function. In order to maneuver your way through your office holiday party, be sure to bring an appropriate white elephant gift, follow the unwritten rules of office party etiquette, and fit yourself within your work’s Christmas party culture.

Not all holiday parties are created equal, but many follow the same general model. Let your hair down and mingle, but don’t allow yourself to be the story at the water cooler on Monday.

Appropriate Work Gifts

Secret Santa, gift exchanges, and white elephant parties are pretty common among the office holiday party culture. If your office participates, there’s no harm in joining in on the fun. Fortunately, many office parties offer a gift cap so that you can still participate and stay within your budget. Not only that, but a company wide gift exchange sets out the rules so that you aren’t wondering about who to get a gift for, and how to keep your gift exchanges affordable. Just be sure, if you do take part in gift exchanges at work, whether that be a secret Santa, or just getting a gift for a coworker, that you keep the gift appropriate.

  • Follow the rules: If your company says you can’t give gifts like alcohol on company property, follow the rules. If your price cap is $20, don’t go over. It’ll make everyone more comfortable if the rules are followed, and it won’t get you into hot water.
  • Avoid controversial gifts: Gifts about religion, self-help, or politics are best avoided in most settings, but especially at work. If you’re looking for a unique gift, look into gifting an experience, or recommend some office charity options. Don’t gift something that might cause controversy, because it could jeopardize your job and alienate coworkers.
  • Know your company: There aren’t many hard rules about gift giving in an office setting, because every company culture is different. In some companies, giving a gift to the boss can be seen as inappropriate, whereas in other companies, it would be acceptable to give the boss a growler of good beer as a gift. Before giving a gift at all, know your company culture.

Office Party Etiquette

Giving a gift to coworkers or bosses is just the tip of the iceberg. The office party is full of situations to professionally maneuver your way through. Think about your professional lines and your comfortability with your coworkers. Office parties often involve food, drinks, games, family guests, mingling, awards, participation, inclusivity, and celebration.

  • Everything in moderation: It’s a party, so by all means have a drink, eat some holiday food, laugh, and have a good time. However, practice moderation in all things. It’s still a work function, so be sure you don’t overdo the festive atmosphere and jeopardize your career in the process as your career is one of your most important financial assets.
  • Dressing appropriately: If you don’t know the dress code, ask those planning the festivities. Some holiday parties tend to be more formal, where others are more relaxed. When in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than under.
  • Mingling and networking: It would be foolish to not view your company Christmas party as both a celebration and also a way to mingle and network within your company. Introduce yourself to the CEO, chat with other departments, and spend time with your work buddies as well. The office holiday party is a great way to meet others in a more laidback atmosphere that can be more comfortable than wandering into someone’s office on a Monday and introducing yourself.
  • Bringing guests: Before bringing your spouse or children, ask about plus ones and children. Just like any other party, planning involves knowing the numbers to have the right amount of food and drinks. Otherwise, bring the family and allow them to join the fun.
  • Having fun: It is important for you to have fun. Your company and those planning the party care more about you having a good time than anything else. If there are games, participate. Have some champagne and talk to someone new. For those maneuvering their way through their first professional career, it can be stressful to enter an office party without knowing how to interact. Just remember that relaxing is a big part of it. Holiday parties are meant to be a time to hang out with coworkers without the stress.

Christmas Party Culture

Hollywood would have you believe that Christmas party culture is one night a year where everyone in the office leaves all of their professionalism at the door. There are people sitting on copy machines, drunk secretaries answering phones, and managers passed out with a Santa hat on. This is not the reality of Christmas party culture in most offices.

Fitting into your holiday party culture is similar to fitting into workplace culture in general. It’s about notating the aspects that make up your company’s personality and finding where and how you fit in. Office holiday parties are culture activities to attend in order to get closer to your company and its employees. It’s important to understand that it’s not an average work day, but it’s not a party with friends either. The culture of each party is different, but it tends to meet somewhere in the middle of professionalism and being completely carefree.

When you’re maneuvering your way through your office holiday party, just remember you’re still at a work function intended to promote a festive atmosphere among employees. Remember to gift appropriately, follow basic holiday party etiquette, and interact in accordance with your company’s holiday party culture. What is champagne flutes for one company is beer in a can for another. You don’t want to be so professional that you forget to have fun, but you don’t want to have to send out an apology email to the whole company on Monday, either. Go to your holiday party with a nice gift, have a drink, follow the dress code, mingle among coworkers, and enjoy a company event without notes or meetings.


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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5

This post was updated November 13, 2017. It was originally published October 24, 2017.