Etiquette Mistakes at the Company Holiday Party

Avoid making a bad impression on your boss or co-workers

The company holiday party is often a great time for everyone to unwind and get to know each other better. But relaxing too much can get you into trouble. At the very least, excess celebration and etiquette mistakes at the company holiday party can become fodder for next-day stories and eventually office legend for future parties.

It's not uncommon to hear about employees getting fired after acting inappropriately at a holiday party, so you can be sure your boss is paying attention. Avoid these excessive behaviors and you're likely to be asked to return to next year's party.

Excessive Drinking

Champagne glasses with one spilling all over table
Harrison Eastwood / Getty Images

Party Scenario: A crowded room full of well-dressed people, the drink in your hand (how many has that been?), you’re laughing, the glass is spilling over, and you go right on laughing.

This is probably the most common mistake that some employees and managers make during the year-end holiday celebration. While many organizations are still offering a full bar, others have begun limiting how much alcohol will be served at the event. Regardless of the company’s decision, every employee should take responsibility for their own consumption.

Holiday Party Drinking Tips:

  • Limit drinks with alcohol to a maximum of two.
  • Avoid mixing drinks.
  • Drink coffee, tea, soft drinks, and water.

Excessive Eating

Party Scenario: There's leftover grease from a recent spicy chicken wing on the napkin stuffed in your pocket—next to the rolled-up cocktail meatball napkin—and a little on your free hand. The other hand is wet from a drink. One of the bosses walks up to you, ready to be greeted.

People who attend events understand that food and beverage will be part of the experience. But it's important to be considerate of how others will approach you, and that includes etiquette basics, such as maintaining clean hands and avoiding a mouthful of canapés.

Holiday Party Eating Tips:

  • Do not walk around with multiple hors d'oeuvres.
  • Do not double-dip or return buffet food.
  • Properly discard napkins, toothpicks, etc.

Excessive Talking

Party Scenario: You meet the Senior VP of your division for the first time at the party and share a 15-minute, detailed story about the office move from six months ago. While you're rambling on, she's surveying the room, clearly looking for a way out.

Most people gravitate and spend time with their colleagues and direct managers. It's better, however, to try to make an effort to speak informally with as many people at the event as possible. That means limiting the time you spend with any single individual or group of guests.

Executives enjoy speaking with employees, and for many, this may be the only interaction. Enjoy brief conversations with higher-ups, but let them move on.

It's also important to avoid appearing bored by others in conversation.

Holiday Party Conversation Tips:

  • Limit conversations to five minutes.
  • Avoid in-depth discussions about business.
  • Thank party hosts and organizers.

Excessive Complaining

Party Scenario: You're still talking with that Senior VP about the move, but now you're explaining how it adds an extra eight minutes to your commute.

In addition to keeping conversations brief, event guests should also remember that this is meant to be a time when everyone can celebrate the successes of the year. That means a cheerful mood.

Remember, stories are often heard by others who are nearby, and those people will add their own spin to the story. A stray comment can quickly be taken out of context and pass through the rumor mill with your name all over it.

Holiday Party Complaint Tips:

  • Compliment colleagues and managers.
  • Identify safe topics to share before the event.
  • Switch topics if you or someone else begins to complain.

Excessive Absence

Party Scenario: You discreetly arrive about 55 minutes into the program, circle the room quickly to be seen, speak to the boss, chat with a colleague, say hello to a counterpart in another department, and disappear 23 minutes later without anyone noticing.

Know this: attendance at the annual company holiday party is practically mandatory. Fashionably late is not fine; arrive within the first 30 minutes if possible. Everyone remembers who stayed for just 10 minutes or departed early.

Senior managers should make a point of staying as long as possible. That means if you're not there when the event begins, certainly stay until the event ends.

Regardless of seniority, employees who want to make a good impression should be mindful of how long they stay at the party.

Excessive Attire

Party Scenario: In preparation for the company event, a few ladies may choose that form-fitting, low cut, sequin dress and highly fragrant new perfume. For a few men, they may think it's the ideal time to show off that shiny suit (which should never have been worn) ... and, oh yeah, that potent new cologne.

Pay attention to the attire description listed on the event invitation. This may be a holiday party, but you're gathering with your co-workers, not personal friends and family.

Excessive Guests

Party Scenario: The company excluded personal guests for the first time this year, but your spouse happens to be great friends with most of your colleagues and knows many of the bosses. You decide to bring them with you because several people in your department agreed it was a good idea.

Some organizations allow additional guests, but many do not. Remember that this is an officially sponsored company event. All of the planning decisions have already been carefully weighed. There are many legitimate reasons behind such decisions, including the accounting of expenses.

If guests are excluded on the invitation, schedule a different party with your friends and family members, and leave them at home this year.

Excessive Personal Time with Another Co-Worker

Party Scenario: You stay for the duration of the party and join some colleagues elsewhere for drinks after it ends. You've indulged just to the point where you may be feeling a little less inhibited than a couple of hours earlier. Then you act on what may not be the best decision of the day: you head back to the office with another co-worker.

Remember this: most offices have security cameras placed where you may not realize, including hallways, stairwells, etc. Many organizations take unfavorable views toward personal relationships among employees and managers. And, at the very least, everyone will definitely know about personal encounters at the office and elsewhere—long after the party is over.