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Lose your inhibitions but not your job – Christmas party etiquette

14 December 2016

Office Christmas parties can be the highlight of the work social calendar – or minefields for the unwary. So how can you make sure you have a great time without getting yourself in any trouble? Employment lawyer Richard Coulthard explains.


Many law firm employees and partners look forward to the festive season as a way to get to know colleagues in a social environment. But to others, the office Christmas party conjures images of uncomfortable ‘secret Santas’ and drunk colleagues being escorted off the premises after overindulging!

So how can you make sure you enjoy your Christmas party but don't fall into any of the potential traps for the unwary?

1. Turn up

Although the office party is optional, it's definitely a good idea to make an appearance. You may dread the thought of spending the evening with people you spend every day with, but your attendance shows you are part of the team.

2. Look the part

The venue or the organisers may determine the dress code – make sure you know what it is and stick to it. If you are worried, ask colleagues what they'll be wearing. The office party may not be the place to wear that slinky black dress or the unbuttoned / overtight shirt!

3. Mingle

Use the party as a networking opportunity – talk to people you wouldn’t normally come across. Don’t leave people standing on their own: no matter how much you want to get rid of someone, it is impolite to leave them on their own. Pair them off with someone else before you make your escape.

Avoid talking about work, and especially about things that really shouldn't be talked about outside the office, like promotions or pay rises. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say on a normal day. The party is your chance to get to know people and make a good impression.

4. Know your limits

People often see the office party as a chance to take advantage of the free booze and food, but excessive drinking is the number one cause of 'incidents'. By all means let your hair down, but remember you are still being watched and judged by your superiors. You are still accountable for your actions. Even though it's an informal party, it counts as an extension of the workplace (and your employment).

Use the office party as a chance to present yourself in the best possible light, as opposed to getting trollied. Even if your boss decides to, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for you to do follow suit! The party is a marathon, not a sprint – you may have a long evening ahead of you. Know your limit and stick to it.

There might be someone who takes it to the extreme – and this will be noticed by the vast majority of staff. Do you want to be the person sheepishly going into work on Monday who can’t remember what they did (that everyone is talking about)?

5. Rise above it

The combination of office gossip and alcohol is almost never going to end well. The result of gossip or rumours may be a colleague feeling bullied or victimised. And avoid confessing any sins to your colleagues after one too many!

6. Stay professional

Before you make a beeline for the person you’ve had your eye on all year, do yourself a favour: stop and think whether it’s a good idea. ‘Probably not’ is the likely answer. Avoid the temptation to start talking to that person anywhere near some mistletoe…

7. Stick it out

In most cases, a lot of time and energy has been spent planning the Christmas party. Always stay for a reasonable amount of time, especially if there is a sit-down dinner. Leaving early may look unappreciative or antisocial.

8. Have fun

Above all, enjoy yourself! Yes, you should strive to be remembered for the right reasons, but the office party is also the ideal place to let your hair down and unwind after what’s most likely been a stressful year of work.

Read our blog about why lawyers are boring at parties
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About the author

Richard Coulthard is a director at Michael Lewin Solicitors, and head of the commercial services departments
Follow Richard Coulthard on Twitter

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