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Don't Get Drunk at the Office Party, and Other Dos and Don'ts of the Holiday Season

Tis’ the season for parties, Secret Santas, gift giving, and all manner of festivities. This goes for office life, too. But it’s also the season for professional pitfalls, business faux pas, and other mistakes caused by holiday exuberance, a misreading of the tea laves, or just plain not understanding the rules of engagement.

At this time of year, emotions and excitement run high, for better and worse. Everyone has to deal with gift-giving, religious sensibilities, festive parties, and other holiday issues, both at home and at work. The difference is that while misfiring at home vis-à-vis what you got Uncle John or how you behaved at the family party might make your mother mad, misfiring at work can have dire consequences for your career.

Here are some dos, don’ts, tips, and strategies to help you navigate the holidays at the office:

The Office Party

The office party is a social event, but it’s also an extension of the workplace and, really, the workday, so your behavior should be as professional and unimpeachable at the party as it is during the day at the office.


  • Do show up on time. Again, this is an extension of the office, so be on time.
  • Do dress appropriately. Business dressy or casual, depending on the circumstances. No stilettos, no cleavage, no perfume. Unless it’s a beach- or luau-themed party, no Hawaiian shirts or flip flops.
  • Do thank the host right away. Remember this might not be your boss, it might be the CEO or owner, and it’s a great opportunity for face time. And be sure to thank those who planned and executed the party.
  • Do mingle and introduce yourself to upper management and people in other divisions. Remember, this is a great networking opportunity.
  • Do turn off your smartphone.
  • Do keep your right hand free and dry so you can shake hands easily.
  • Do bring your spouse or significant other if they are invited and you feel they will help you look good (crass but true). They will be seen as an extension of you, so be sure they are coached in dressing appropriately, conversing pleasantly, not drinking too much, not talking about how much you hate your job, etc. 


  • Don’t gossip. Network, yes. Gossip, no.
  • Don’t get drunk. Get drunk at the office party and no one will ever forget it. There has never been an instance where getting drunk in front of a boss or co-workers has helped someone’s career. It’s best not to drink at all, but if you must drink, absolutely limit yourself to one or two drinks, tops. And be sure to drink water and eat some food so you don’t get tipsy.
  • Don’t corner your boss and discuss a bonus or your salary.
  • Don’t look at the event as a singles party or a chance to flirt with that cute guy in production. Remember: Your boss, your supervisors, and your co-workers are watching.
  • Don’t just camp out with your co-workers or team; meet new people and network.
  • Don’t dance. Just don’t.
  • Don’t wear silly holiday attire. No Santa hats, elf suits, jingle bell earrings, etc.
  • Don’t bring your spouse or partner if they don’t want to come or if you are afraid they won’t enjoy playing the role of support staff. This is important: If they can’t be counted on to make you look good don’t bring them.

Office Gift Giving

Gift-giving is tricky. Here is some advice:

  • Your company may have written rules about gift-giving, so check the employee manual or with HR or your supervisor.
  • Your company, team, or office may have its own unwritten traditions, so ask around.
  • If there is no tradition of gift giving, DO NOT start one.
  • If there is a tradition of gift giving at your office, remember that, generally speaking, gifts flow downward. DO NOT buy your boss or superiors a gift.
  • Do buy gifts for your assistant, your secretary, or your team members.
  • Gifts should reflect your appreciation and esteem, not your embarrassing largess.
  • Think small, classic, and business appropriate gifts, like good writing paper, nice pens, gift certificates to nearby coffee shops or restaurants, picture frames, nice chocolates, etc.
  • Never give iPods or anything too expensive or flashy, and be careful about things like wine. Of course, if you know your assistant adores a good California Chardonnay, a nice bottle is the perfect gift, but otherwise steer clear of alcohol.

Holiday and Religious Displays at the Office

Office decorations are always an issue. It’s best to avoid them altogether, but if you must display them (and are allowed to), here are some tips:

  • First, check with your manager or HR on the company policy. Some companies ban them altogether. Find out what the protocol is, as well as the tradition.
  • Be sensitive to the religious affiliations of others.
  • Never comment disparagingly on someone’s else’s display, religious or otherwise.
  • Keep the annoying dancing Santas at home. If you do decorate your desk or office, the decorations should be minimal, low-key, tasteful, and not distracting.
  • Keep the holiday attire down, too. Unless you are a nurse in a pediatric unit or a preschool teacher, your reindeer earrings, fuzzy Santa sweater, and jingle bell brooch will not be greeted with glee. Save the corny Christmas attire for someplace other than your office

Holiday Shopping while Working

We are all crunched for time, but shopping while at work can present problems if you aren’t careful:

  • No, you cannot take a longer lunch to go shopping, though some companies may be more flexible this time of year. And don’t ask. What do you think your boss would think if you asked for a longer lunch so you could go shopping?
  • If you do shop on your lunch hour, be sure to return on time, and DO NOT come back to the office laden with shopping bags. It looks bad. 
  • Don’t get caught cybershopping when you should be working. Save it for your lunch hour.


You can survive and even thrive during the holidays at your office if you understand expectations, your office traditions, and follow a few simple rules. Happy holidays everyone! And good luck!



  • Save the Santa sweaters for home.
  • Do not buy your boss a gift.
  • Do not get drunk at the office party.
  • Don’t dance at the holiday party.
  • Only bring your spouse if they will help you look good.

Want to learn more about Office Etiquette for your organization? Check it out:

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