Office Party Etiquette: Avoid Doing These 10 Things

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By Robert Half December 5, 2019 at 6:00pm

Office party season has arrived. These gatherings can be great opportunities to get to know colleagues on a more personal level, chat with company leaders you might not usually talk to or simply spread a little holiday cheer. You just need to make sure that the “cheer” is on a professional level.

Because holiday celebrations present a more relaxed environment, it’s easy to forget your office party etiquette. Most of us have a least one story about a colleague who did something embarrassing at a work gathering. If you attract attention, you want it to be for the right reasons.

So, before you head out to your company event, brush up on basic office party etiquette and avoid the following:

1. Talking shop 'til they drop

An office party should be about mingling, not brainstorming. This is not the place to begin sharing your thoughts on next year’s marketing budget or what vendor you want to use for a software update. If you do talk business, pay attention to people’s subtle cues to see if they’re looking to make a graceful exit from too much shop talk.

2. Bringing everyone down

Leave your bah-humbug attitude at home and avoid complaining or wallowing in woe. Try to keep a cheery disposition, and offer upbeat or neutral discussion topics. Holiday or travel plans are typically easy areas of discussion, for example.

3. Stirring up controversy

It’s never a good idea to bring up contentious issues involving politics or religion. We live in especially polarized times, and you don’t want to offend a coworker who doesn’t share your views. Again, opt for lighter fare instead, like your favorite restaurants, good books or entertainment news.

4. Drinking too much eggnog

Don’t overindulge in alcoholic beverages. That old adage is true: “Loose lips sink ships,” or in this case, careers. When your judgment is impaired, you’re more likely to do or say something you’re sure to regret — but your boss is sure to remember.

5. Showing up starving

It’s challenging to talk to coworkers when you spend most of the party with your mouth full of food. Eating a light meal beforehand helps you focus your attention on those around you rather than on the buffet table.

6. Violating the dress code

Find out what's expected in terms of holiday attire and stick with it. Your goal should be to blend in with other attendees.

7. Gossiping

The office party may look and feel social, but it’s still a business function. It’s not the time to point fingers about a failed project or trash a coworker behind their back. Be respectful of everyone there, even those you may not love working with. If the office busybody tries to draw you into a gossip session, take the high road or politely excuse yourself.

8. Standing in the corner

Some of us thrive in large social gatherings and some of us find them draining. No matter how you feel about office parties, use the opportunity to mingle with people outside of your immediate circle of colleagues. Branch out and network with support staff, employees from other departments and executives, even if it’s a little uncomfortable at first.

9. Letting your 'plus one' be a negative

If guests are allowed, choose wisely. Remember, your date's behavior is a reflection on you, so you probably don’t want to bring someone who always drinks a little too much or tells offensive jokes. When in doubt, attend the event on your own.

10. Staying until the lights go out

Try to make your entrance and exit with the bulk of the crowd. Unless you’re setting up the party or helping break it down, don't be the first to arrive or the last to leave.

Any more office party etiquette?

If the party is at a colleague or executive’s home (or they hosted the party elsewhere), show your appreciation to the host and others who worked on the event by thanking them in person or sending them a note afterward. However, if you work for a huge company and they throw an annual gathering for everyone, you probably aren’t required to track down the CEO and thank them.

There’s a reason for following office party etiquette tips: Cringe-worthy or embarrassing behavior during off-hours can absolutely affect your reputation when you're back on the job Monday morning. You can avoid being “that person” if you follow these suggestions. You might also have some fun along the way!

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