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Surviving the Office Holiday Party - With Your Career Intact

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

The Office Holiday Party has become an obligatory event where a company gets to show its appreciation to its employees for the hard work they put in throughout the year.

It’s generally a weird dynamic – dress everyone up, add booze, throw in a +1 that does not know anyone or get any of the inside jokes, and it becomes a potent formula for awkwardness, entertainment, and disaster. The holiday party is a huge minefield that can ruin your career. Or it can be an opportunity to shine.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to make your holiday party go well for you and your career:


  1. Drink too much alcohol. Theoretically, this could be the entire list. The root cause of pretty much every conceivable bad outcome - from hitting on the boss’ wife, making an ass of yourself on the dance floor, to getting a DUI on the ride home, starts with alcohol consumption. My advice is all things in moderation: pace yourself (and your date, if you bring one) – and try to stay behind the pack. If everyone is getting hammered, you can still have a good time, but you don’t have to be the one to get falling-down drunk in front of the whole executive team & HR. Nobody wants to get fired in December for being a drunken lout at the holiday party.

  2. Dress inappropriately. Make sure you know the dress code for the party. Generally speaking, most holiday parties are dressier than the standard work attire. If there is an ugly sweater theme, its OK to wear an ugly sweater. For ladies, it’s OK to up your game a bit but keep it classy – think “wedding guest” vs. “clubbing in Vegas.” Showing the office you can clean up well can enhance your reputation.

  3. Hook up, hit on or harass anyone. See #1 above. Even if you think nobody is watching you sneak off with the intern, they are. Also not appropriate to finally tell Karen in marketing all about your crush on her. If you are a manager - you could end up with a lawsuit and "your fired" for Christmas.

  4. Be a Grinch. If there is some kind of theme or game (like a gift exchange) – play ball. If your Secret Santa gift came from the vending machine in the break room because you forgot, you’ll look like a jerk.

  5. Talk shop. It can be tough to find things to talk about other than work, but you should try. Especially if there are dates there who are struggling to stay in the conversation in the first place.


  1. Offer to help. Depending on the party, you can offer to help with the planning, set-up, or clean-up. It’s a generally stressful and thankless job that someone was tagged with and the help will be appreciated. If you are a leader in the company, consider dipping into your own wallet if appropriate. I once had a manager pay for the party out of his pocket when there was no budget that year (unbeknownst to us minions), and get everyone on his team small but meaningful gifts. Getting a reputation for generosity is not a bad thing.

  2. Be inclusive. Talk to people from other departments, your boss’ boss, and your co-workers dates (let’s face it, you kinda want to know what kind of woman would marry Ted from accounting). It’s an opportunity to meet new people and get to know people outside of the normal work circles. You might be able to build connections in other parts of the company that will benefit you later.

  3. Plan ahead. If the party is at a co-worker’s house - get a nice gift for the host. If the party is at a restaurant or other venue and there will be alcohol involved, arrange for safe transportation or hotel arrangements ahead of time.

  4. Be gracious. Thank whoever planned the event. If you are a manager, be sure to thank each of your subordinates and their spouses for all they do for you and the company. Thank their spouses for helping your employees stay on their game during all the long days, travel, etc.

  5. Give your significant other the option to opt-out. Let’s face it, getting invited to a party where you only know one person is not fun for most people. They won’t get any of the jokes, stories, or speeches. It’s really taking one for the team. Letting them off the hook might be the best present you give them.

Hopefully these pointers are valuable to you and can help you soon.

Remember: It can take years to build your professional reputation and minutes to destroy it.

Whatever you do, have fun, be gracious, and be safe. Cheers!

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