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Cutting loose a no-no at office parties

‘Tis the season of holiday office parties.

You may have already experienced yours this year or yours may be in the next couple of days. The main thing to remember about office parties is that they are WORK!!!!

Say what?

You’re thinking that your company or organization is pulling out all of the stops with the goal of giving colleagues a chance to celebrate the season. And you’d be right.

But you must remember that you’re celebrating with the same people you will see at the office next week. Do you REALLY want to “let your hair down” and party like there’s no tomorrow? Let’s think about this.

I once worked at a corporate headquarters for a company that had some pretty ambitious quarterly sales goals. People in the company worked very hard to meet the sales goals. While there were probably some individual perks for the sales force (I was entry level so didn’t have access to this information), when the company achieved the goals, we had a huge party.

There was fabulous food and lots of alcohol and it was all FREE to the employees. As a young, college educated, naive new employee, I went and had my eyes opened! Lots of alcohol was consumed and people said and did things they would NEVER have said or done in the workplace. And then they had to go back to the workplace and everyone at the party KNEW what they had said and/or done.

Ouch.

So what did I learn, early in my career, about office parties? A wise older colleague taught me to remember that the party is an extension of the workplace. Don’t do anything at the party that you would not do at the office.

But, you say, it’s FREE alcohol and food! Yes, I know, so if you must drink, limit your alcohol intake. For most people, two drinks should be your limit. If you drink more, especially if you’re not used to drinking a lot, the odds are something will happen that you will be ashamed of.

I’ve heard people say things they were mortified to later learn they said (because they didn’t remember the conversation). Got a beef with your boss or a colleague? When your inhibitions are lowered, which happens when you drink more than you’re used to, you’re much more likely to make your co-worker aware of that beef.

At a party after work on a Friday, I saw a male colleague make a pass at a female colleague, even though the female colleague’s husband was there. This husband arrived at the workplace on Monday morning wanting to know what the supervisor of both employees planned to do about this. That was a fun one!

We’ve all heard of the inappropriate attire worn occasionally to parties. And we’ve seen behaviors on the dance floor that embarrassed us. So prior to the party, consider what message you plan to send with your attire.

As I tell students today, think about the message you send with your attire during a job interview. For females, if it’s too tight, low cut, or short, you probably need to rethink your choice. For men, being too casual when all of the other men are in suits may send the wrong message.

I had a speaker in a class one time share that a couple of colleagues had lost their jobs after drinking too much and copying body parts using the company’s copy machine. How did anyone know? They left the copies in the machine. I’m not sure how they were later identified, but they were.

If you think you may be at risk of doing something inappropriate, ask your spouse, date or a colleague to help you monitor your behavior. This conversation needs to occur BEFORE you arrive. Come up with a phrase that the other person will say to you if you begin to get out of control. Give the person permission to excuse you from the party if they feel like it’s in your best interest.

You might miss some of the fun, but you’ll thank them later! Your date is your responsibility too. What that person does reflects on you.

Office parties can be fun with people you seem to spend more time with than your own family. If you will remember that it’s really still the workplace, you are likely to not only enjoy the party, but also the day after when you return to work. You may keep your job too!

This is one in a series of columns by University of Mary Washington College of Business faculty on various aspects of finance and economics as they affect our readers. Lynne Richardson is the Dean and Professor of Marketing.

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