Tis’ the Season

Helpful tips for successfully navigating holiday office parties

The wildest on-screen office party scene I’ve ever viewed was season three, episode six of the AMC TV show “Mad Men.” The Sterling Cooper gang’s going-away party for Joan ends in bloodshed after one too many boozed-up employees takes a John Deere tractor for a spin and Guy’s foot is sacrificed to the drinking gods. Thankfully, most office parties—holiday or otherwise—don’t end with a trip to the emergency room, but it’s nonetheless an apt cautionary tale.

According to a 2013 Battalia Winston survey, holiday parties have made a comeback. The numbers rose steadily over the past few years, up from 91 percent in 2012, and 74 percent in 2011. With 96 percent of companies polled hosting holiday parties in 2013, there’s a good chance most companies will continue the tradition.  

Whether it’s a casual luncheon at the office, a ballroom bash, or a small Christmas dinner with the boss, business holiday parties are rife with the potential for faux pas. To imbibe or not to imbibe, what to wear and gifting are important concerns, and each sends a message to employers and colleagues. By keeping a few things in mind, you’ll be sure to send the right message.

The 2013 survey reported that drinks would be served at 72 percent of the parties, so planning a strategy is key. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Daisy’s friend, golf pro Jordan Baker muses, “It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people.”

Even in alcohol-friendly New Orleans, consider this wisdom when contemplating that next cocktail. If you do partake, switching to water between rounds is an effective preventative measure. For teetotalers — either by choice or doctor’s orders — why not ask the bartender to make you a “mocktail”? There’s also the time-honored covert tactic of a simple soda or tonic water with lime. Finding yourself overserved in front of your boss is not the best career move, but worst case, discreetly slip out and grab a cab.

When it comes to attire, err on the side of conservative. Ladies, a blouse with a little sparkle, blazer, smart skirt or pants and a pair of heels can work for day or night with a quick after-work jewelry and handbag swap.

For men, a holiday tie or cufflinks is festive, but not excessively funky. Everyone should avoid the over-the-top “ugly Christmas sweater,” an especially bad choice if vying for a promotion. Also, steer clear of styles that are low-cut, exceedingly short, ill-fitting, sporty, too casual or sexy. Gentlemen, channel your favorite version of James Bond or perhaps George Clooney. Women, think Audrey Hepburn or George Clooney’s new bride, the ever-sophisticated, Amal Alamuddin Clooney.

Keep it classy (or keep it Clooney, your choice) and you’ll always strike the right chord.

Gifting at the office can be tricky any time of year. The Emily Post Institute recommends forgoing a gift for your boss, unless it’s a group gift with coworkers, lest you come off as a brownnoser. Gifts to colleagues should be simple, inexpensive and, if humorous, kept work appropriate. Secret Santa and White Elephant exchanges are a way to take pressure off of not only the psyche, but also the budget.
A good habit to form is to remind yourself before every office event that, no matter how casual the soirée, business rules apply. Always dress and behave the way you want to be perceived by your managers and colleagues. Also, tractors and tequila don’t mix—it’s all fun and games, until somebody loses a foot.


Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions at melanie@myneworleans.com.




Categories: Biz Etiquette, The Magazine