How To Navigate Your Work Holiday Party With Class

It’s the most wonderful time of your career. During the holiday season, your boss is (hopefully) a little more relaxed, everyone’s breaking out the ugly sweaters, and that company party is just around the corner.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner3 min read
holiday party (1)

It’s always fun to get in the spirit. But the holiday Christmas party isn’t an excuse to let everything out. While you want to have fun at the party, this isn’t an excuse to abandon the professional facade. With that in mind, we’ve established some basic rules for attending the office party and making a lasting (good) impression.

1. Dressing the Part

Depending on how formal or informal your company party is, you’ll want to dress for the occasion. Showing up in sweats or pajama pants is a no-no (unless it’s a Christmas pajama party). But pretending you’re going to the Oscars might not get you the red carpet moment you expect.  

  • Stick to more conservative, modest fashion. You can play up your stylish side but keep in mind the same skin-coverage ground rules you’d use at the office: minimal cleavage, a reasonable length of skirt, and shoes that are fun but not trashy.

  • Decide whether you’re going festive or sophisticated. Wearing a traditional color like silver, green, or red can add a hint of fun to an elegant dress. 

  • Layering: Find a nice coat, scarf, gloves, and maybe a hat to keep you warm and snug (if you’re in a colder area). 

  • Don’t overdo it: It’s better to fall into the simple but elegant category than to look like an extra in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

2. Enjoy Your Drink (But Not Too Much)

Drinking around co-workers after hours can be inviting or intimidating. You want to enjoy yourself but don’t want to end up doing or saying something you’ll regret. A good rule of thumb is to stay as sober as possible at work events. No matter how tempting the spiked eggnog may be, you’re still going to have to show up and face everyone once it’s over. So personal preference becomes a true characteristic of how someone drinks at a holiday party. 

  • Know your limits. Alcohol doesn’t lower your inhibitions; it lowers your expectations. The things you know are not appropriate while sober may not seem so bad when you’ve over-imbibed. (And you may somehow find yourself flirting with that gross guy you just can’t stand).

  • One or two drinks is plenty. You can nurse a single drink slowly throughout the event so you don’t over-indulge. 

  • Make sure to eat and drink plenty of water. This is especially important if you’re planning to drive home. You can be responsible and have a great night.

3. Keep Conversations Light and Friendly

Just because you’re outside of work hours doesn’t mean this is the moment to spill all your personal drama to the crowd. That can lead to some awkward questions and strange feelings toward you later down the road.  

  • Stay away from politics and controversial topics. These events are supposed to unite everyone, not divide.

  • Don’t spread personal drama or gossip. It’s incredibly awkward to be at a party and have someone tell you their entire life story. 

  • Use it as a chance to check in on the positive sides of people’s personal lives. Stick to topics like their kids, their recent engagement, or the trip they took over the summer. 

  • Listen more than you talk. It is a rule universally acknowledged that people enjoy talking more than they enjoy listening. If you want to leave a great impression on coworkers you don’t interact with as often, ask them plenty of questions and don’t interrupt with your own story. 

4. Think of It As a Networking Opportunity

A good work environment naturally blooms when employees appreciate their job and feel appreciated. When trust is built, it’s easier to meet success. Company parties are the perfect opportunity to interact with new coworkers and some of the higher-ups you’re not usually interacting with at the office. 

  • Take the party as a chance to introduce yourself to that VP or your bosses’ boss. Who knows, you may be able to find a new mentor through a simple holiday party conversation!

  • Keep things light and polite. Remember that it’s a party! Work the room and be engaging. Make sure to say hi to coworkers you don’t normally interact with and check in on them. 

  • Use it as a chance to stand out. If you’re enthusiastic and friendly, you’ll be more approachable during and after the party (especially when it’s time for your performance review). 

5. Timing Truly Is Everything

Getting to a party at just the right time may be more complicated than it seems. Shooting to arrive when asked to is always best, but it’s not often realistic. With hair, makeup, clothes, and (maybe) children to worry about before and after, timing has to be worked out. Leaving is tricky too. If you exit the party too soon, people will get the impression that you didn’t enjoy yourself, but if you stay too late, you might just get caught in that ice storm everyone’s talking about.   

  • Being fashionably late is okay. That’s five or 10 minutes past the start, maybe 15. If you show up 45 minutes into the party, the food might be picked over. 

  • Don’t come too early. There is nothing worse than decorating for a party and having a guest show up before the food is out. It takes a lot of work to prepare, so unless you’ve asked and been okayed to help set up, don’t barge in on the scene 30 minutes beforehand. 

  • Know when to dip out. Once the party is dying down and the night is getting late, don’t be afraid to say goodbye and slip away. If there’s a plated dinner, you wouldn’t want to leave before dessert. 

  • Leaving too late can get weird. If it’s just you, the host, and the trash can, it’s time to get going. (You should leave well before this scenario.) Deciding when to call it a night should be based on the atmosphere, your level of comfort, and the event itself, not just what the clock says. 

Closing Thoughts

Effort makes a party. How you dress, drink, and spend your time at the company party may not reflect on your work ethic directly, but it does make an impression. It’s best to give yourself some etiquette ground rules and stick to them in order to keep it classy and have a holly jolly everything. 

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