Nobody forgets that person who drank too much at last year’s office holiday party. Or worse, that person caught in the closet with Joe from accounting. Imagine walking into the office on Monday morning—talk about awkward. It’s hard to live that down, and you may damage your reputation, or, worst-case scenario, the future of your career. Your company’s annual holiday party is a great opportunity to connect with your coworkers on a personal level, so have fun, but at the same time make sure to behave professionally.
Here are five work holiday party “don’ts” to avoid:
1. Don’t turn the party into a meeting
Remember that you are no longer in a business setting, so avoid discussing work topics. Whether you are mingling with a colleague or a supervisor, you should keep the conversation light and festive.
“Conversation about business and your professional role specifically—should be kept to a minimum,” says communication expert Dr. Patty Ann Tublin. “If you are asked about your work, keep your answer short and sweet—nobody wants to hear the specifics of anything you are doing; definitely don’t bore others with your achievements. Try to be authentic and compliment others—most people can pick out a phony person a mile away!”
2. Don’t get too personal
While it’s important to be friendly at a work party, be careful not to over-share. There are some things that should be kept private, such as the details of your painful breakup the week before.
So what topics of conversation are safe bets? “[Ask] what they’re doing for the holiday,” says Dale Winston, chairwoman and CEO of executive recruiting firm Battalia Winston. “Small talk about them” is generally safe, she says. “People love to talk about themselves.”
Ben Peterson, co-founder and CEO of software company BambooHR, says gratitude is another foolproof conversation starter. “Say ‘thank you’ for any genuine reason you can think of. Thank-yous and common courtesy are meaningful,” he says.
3. Don’t gossip or bring up controversial topics
Even if you can’t think of anything to talk about, never resort to talking behind your coworkers’ backs. You may feel tempted to vent some work-related frustrations to your counterparts, but remember, a company social event is not the place to do it.
“You never know who’s behind you in the buffet line or at the next table who might overhear your negative comments,” warns Diane Domeyer, executive director of staffing company OfficeTeam.
Airing grievances at the holiday party is the fastest way to make enemies and potentially lose your job. Also, avoid discussing politics, religion, and other hot-button issues.
4. Don’t drink too much
We all know our limits, so when you are drinking socially, make sure to stay in control of your behavior. “There may be a free bar, and it can be very tempting to drink to get through the evening, but then our inhibitions slip and we say and do things we later regret. A real danger of drinking too much is making a nuisance of our self with a colleague, to the extent that they see it as sexual harassment. It may be a Christmas party but you are still ‘at work’,” according to career strategist Denise Taylor.
Robin Abrahams, author of Miss Conduct’s Mind over Manners: Master the Slippery Rules of Modern Ethics and Etiquette, adds, “If you’re in a workplace where people do drink a lot, get something like a rum and Coke or gin and tonic for your first drink, then stick to plain Coke or tonic after that. This way no one will know how much you’re not drinking.”
5. Don’t look for a love connection
This isn’t happy hour. We’ve all heard that romantic “we met at work” story, but there’s a time and a place to look for love.
“Female employees are often dressed to the nines, showing skin. Keep your eyes up and hands off at all costs. Don’t check that sexual-harassment training at the door, and remember to keep your conversation and compliments professional. You are on company time even if you are not clocked in,” advises human resources expert Jessica Merrell-Miller.
The office party isn’t a place to impress your new fling, either. “Don’t even think of bringing someone to the office party as a ‘first date’! The pressure it puts on the relationship and the questions you’ll have to answer at work on Monday aren’t worth it,” says Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a psychologist and marriage and family counselor.
Overall, remember to put the emphasis on the office in office party. Have a good time, but be responsible and use this event as a chance to improve your business relationships. By avoiding these five holiday party faux pas, you’ll enhance your reputation at work and start the New Year off on a positive note.