Business Lesson #46: The Dos and Don’ts of Holiday Office Parties

In this week’s business advice column, I thought it timely to discuss a few important aspects of management etiquette for your upcoming holiday office party.  Any day now you’ll likely receive an invitation to your company’s Holiday Office Party.  If not, don’t fret. This probably means you’re in line for the other invitation: to the meeting in the cafeteria starting in 20 minutes, letting you know you’ve been cordially invited not to return to work on Monday, so you can spend more time with your family, just in time for the holidays. My, how thoughtful. Let’s hope yours is the former invitation.

Holiday office parties come in all varieties from big splashy blowout affairs to the more intimate dinner out with the boss. You’ve probably participated in one or more of the following familiar holiday office party traditions: a festive Christmas tree adorned with twinkle lights and shiny ornaments, employees dressed in their finest seasonal themed party attire, a festive Bert, the socially awkward web developer who had way too much eggnog, and is now adorned in twinkle lights and shiny ornaments he borrowed from the festive Christmas tree.

These parties can be an opportunity for fun, bonding with the boss, and letting your hair down, so your real personality can shine through, which if you happen to be Bert, the socially awkward developer, I would strongly advise against. It’s possible to enjoy a little too much of a good thing. So here are a few suggested management Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind when you pass under the mistletoe at this year’s annual holiday office party.

Good idea: Giving a small personalized gift to each member of your team as a way of showing your appreciation as their manager for all their hard work this past year.

worlds best boss

Bad idea: Handing out a small personalized gift in the form of coffee mugs with your face plastered on the side with the words “World’s Best Boss”.

Good idea: Reaching across departmental lines and introducing yourself to people in other departments, like Denise in accounting, whom you’ve been a little shy to meet.

Bad idea: Giving Denise in accounting a personally selected, gift-wrapped present, which turns out to be a handy calculator…. you stole earlier that afternoon… from accounting … from Denise’s desk.

Good idea: Taking a few minutes to chat with the CEO and share with her some of your ideas for improving the company’s bottom line. Let her see that you have lots of innovative ideas that perhaps nobody has considered previously.  Show her you have a future in senior management. You’d look good in a pin-striped suit.

Bad idea: Sharing with the CEO your idea for a fool-proof off-the-books accounting technique sure to slip past Denise and the gang in accounting, and increase this year’s profit picture by 800% — and that you’re only asking for “5% of the action”. Perhaps your future involves a different sort of striped outfit. 

reindeer costumesGood idea: Getting dressed up in the Holiday spirit wearing colorful outfits you might not normally wear to the office the rest of the year. Perhaps wearing that reindeer sweater or the sparkly earrings in the shape of Christmas wreaths.

Bad idea: Crashing the holiday party with eight of your rugby team buddies, all dressed as Santa’s Reindeer, wearing only plastic antlers and strategically placed jingle bells, yelling “Hey, look at us. We’re reindeer. We brought Tequila. Where’s the salt lick?”

Good idea: Offering to play Santa at the Office Party and doling out presents to the children of fellow employees. This is sure to score points with all your co-workers who dreaded being nominated for this thankless job.

Bad idea: Having a little too much tequila from the stash your rugby teammates brought with them, then climbing down the chimney to deliver these presents – only to wake up hours later in the basement to discover that the chimney was in fact the trash chute.

Good idea: Going around the room and sharing with everyone on your team what you’re grateful for at this time of year, making a particular note to thank the team in software programming for doing such great work on the new accounting software code and getting the product out in time for the big marketing launch. Those guys busted their butts.

Bad idea: Thanking the good folks in accounting for nice year-end bonus you got which just happened to be off (in your favor) by two decimal points. Turns out that your constant badgering of the software programmers to get the product out in time for that big marketing launch caused them to overlook a little glitch in the accounting program that worked out nicely for you.

Good idea: Taking the entire team out for a special holiday dinner and including a special surprise gift for each person at the end of the meal.

happy meal

Bad idea: Ordering that special dinner with the team at the drive through window and telling them that their special gift can be found at the bottom of the Happy Meal box.

I hope you find some of these holiday party management pointers helpful. I suggest avoiding any of the bad ideas listed above, unless of course, you actually would prefer that other invitation, to spend more time with your family, just in time for the holidays.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2010 – 2011

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  • Published On Dec. 12, 2009 by TEJ
  • 2 Comments


    1. Drew Fisher
      12/13/09

      I fully expect that each of your “Bad Idea” entries will turn up over the next couple of seasons as plot lines on “The Office.”

      The all-time champ Christmas party of my career involved our secretary, who until the party had been perceived as the absolute ideal employee of all time. She was always courteous, helpful, neat, thorough, presented a clean desk at the end of the day, demonstrated all the cardinal virtues of executive assistantship, and she was quite pretty.

      This, with the possible exception of her being pretty, vaporized when, after a tad too much liquid cheer, she inexplicably walked up to the chairman and CEO of the company at the party and instructed him to perform an anatomically impossible act.

      Needless to say, she was not on the payroll the following Monday (scenario two, that would be). It was then that we discovered a little secret of hers. Down the hall from our work area, there were several rows of file cabinets. Every day, at the end of the day, she would take what was left in her inbox, and dump it into one of the file-cabinet drawers. In those drawers were half-finished government regulatory reports, drafts of monthly corporate reports, letters from the public, drafts of letters in reply, staff memos, proposed office rule changes, employee evaluations, resumés, letters of recommendation, and who knows what else. That, and the omnipresent bottle of Fantastik, explained the sparkling-clean desk.

      No one has ever heard of, from, or about her, and we can blame the Christmas party.


    2. 12/13/09

      I don’t know, Tim, you got my thinking our Christmas parties are way too tame. Hey, by the way, if I give you my photo, can you have a dozen “World’s Best Boss” mugs made for our next staff meeting? just a thought…

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