How to Survive the Office Holiday Party

Hey, am I going to see you at the holiday party?

You can’t miss it. It’s the nicest thing management does for us. It almost makes up for the low pay and the frustration we experience the rest of the year. You deserve it.

Plus it looks good. Management will be there. They don’t just see you at the party as a guest but a team player. You’re getting along with the rest of the team, and you’re showing appreciation for this grand gesture. Yeah, you need to clear your schedule for this.

Of course I’m going to be there. And I look forward to seeing you and meeting your significant other. But I hope you’re not planning to rely on me for entertainment all evening. You need to get around and meet some folks. Think of it as a networking event.

OK, this is supposed to be a fun event. People are going to expect to get away from work and relax. But it’s still a work function. Like I said, someone is taking attendance. So the challenge is to give people a positive impression that will advance your career without looking like you’re trying to advance your career.

The first thing you’re going to do is meet lots of people. Shake a lot of hands. Wish a lot of happy holidays. Just introducing yourself is big.

You need a good introduction. It needs to be better than “Hi, I’m Bob in Accounting.” That doesn’t tell anyone anything. See if you can find out who they are first.

So when you meet someone in sales, tell them “Hi, I’m Bob. I compile your contract amounts into our weekly sales reports.” You just made yourself relevant to them.

If you’re having trouble figuring out that relevancy right off the bat, introduce what you do, not your title. “Hi I’m Bob. I bring in new business from the hospitality industry.” You just established your value to the company.

After the introductions, comes the “How are things going?”

Before you respond with “Busy. But that’s a good thing,” think of something you want management to know about your job.

Think about being specific like “I’m wrapping up the migration project that’s going to make our data more secure. It’s the kind of work I really enjoy.” You don’t want to go over their head with jargon but sounding a little bit geeky isn’t a bad thing. The key is that you are presenting yourself as someone who enjoys the job and does valuable work.

This isn’t supposed to be about work so be ready to get personal. So get ready to move the conversation outside of your cubicle. Avoid the weather unless you’re planning a ski trip. Try these questions to get the ball rolling.

“How’s your shopping going?”

Yeah, this is a standard opening at this time of year. It’s worth asking even if you get a boring, non-descript answer like “Pretty close to being done.” This gives you a chance to confess some troubles on your end like not being able to find the right gift for your significant other. This may prompt your conversation partner to offer advice or talk more about their shopping.

“You going anywhere for the holidays?”

Another standard that offers a gateway to more conversation. If they are going somewhere, that can lead to more questions about the area they’re visiting. How does it compare to where you are now? You may get lucky and have been to there so you can offer something to the conversation.

“Have you tried the cookies?”

Or whatever else on the buffet table is pretty good. Yes this seems about as small as small talk can get. But it can lead you into how the food reminds you of something your favorite aunt would make around the holidays or talking about your favorite recipe. Or take a different tact about how your going to have to spend more time in the gym working off the calories. Then move the conversation into how you’re training for something interesting.

I’m going to suggest you avoid sports. Because if you’re talking to someone who isn’t a fan of anything with a ball, the conversation is going to come to a screeching halt. It will make both of you feel extremely uncomfortable.

But if the someone else brings it up, run with it. If you’re already not a fan I suggest you do some research into these topics:

  • The college bowl system vs. playoffs for a national championship
  • Who’s going to the playoffs in the NFL
  • Tiger Woods’ driving ability

Be ready to ask a lot of questions. And don’t be afraid to be a fan of a rival team. You can keep the conversation civil.

By the way, do I have to tell you to watch the drinking? Even if you brought a designated driver, you need to be able to control your conversation and behavior. I say have one drink. It will help you relax and show management you can handle alcohol. Keep hydrated with water or soft drinks because it will help to have something in your hand.

And not to sound all girly on you, but what are you wearing? I’m going like it’s casual Friday. But I have this cool Santa hat to round out the ensemble. It’s the holidays. Yeah I think you can get away with the tie with a Christmas tree. And it has real lights? Go for it. But draw the line there. You want to show some fun and professionalism.

It’s going to be a good time. We should be able to have some fun without damaging our careers. Maybe even do some good.

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Cubicle Curtis is the guy sitting at the next workstation. He's been in this office longer than anyone else, so he's a valuable resource of who does what and how to get things done. Before this job, he has worked just about every job between pizza delivery and accounting. Now, he's all about getting the job done and helping you figure out how to survive yours.


  1. Stephanie Lewis on the 19th December

    Now see, I always love office holiday parties. One place where I worked, there were only 10 of us and we all got along great. (God, i miss that place). we would do our party during the day, go to Ruth’s Chris or a Japaneses steakhouse for a couple of house at lunch time, come back to the office and do presents, and then we would either close early and all go shopping together or go home. Did I mention I REALLY miss working there?

    Even at The Office From Hell, as a supervisor, I would gather all of the cool floks on one side of the ballroom leaving the uppers and other middle managers far away and pretended that they weren’t there. The boss would only torture us with his presence for about 5 or 10 minutes and then all was good. And he gave us all company umbrellas for presents. How sweet.

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