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How to survive your workplace holiday party

Xavier Arnau
Getty Images

Dancing on the tables. Spilling a drink on the boss. It's that time of year when you could get it all wrong at the office holiday party.

But don't fear - Elaine Swann is here to help you avoid a festive faux pas. She's an etiquette expert and the founder of the Swann School of Protocol.

"Presenting yourself at an office party has so much to do with the fact that your social skills, your ability to appear as though you're part of the team, and the opportunity to network with folks that you normally would not have is important," Swann told NPR's Morning Edition.

The potential for things to go bad is real, "because there's alcohol involved [and] it tends to be after hours or outside of the normal work environment," Swann said. "So people... have a shift in their mind, and they start to feel a little more loose. And they'll see one person maybe take a step and do something outside of the norm, and then another person does that, and the next thing you know, you've got almost chaos."

So how do you avoid becoming THAT person everyone is talking about on Monday?

Ultimately, it's a work event

"My recommendation is to really approach this and look at it as another stage or level of a job interview," Swann recommended. "You're being watched. Let's say, for example, you are just acting a fool. The consequence could be not getting assigned a really big account or even moving up in the company."

Despite the potential pitfalls, you've still got to go, said Swann.

"This is your opportunity to have your presence known, to connect with folks," she said. "People think, this is not something I want to go to. It's social. It's optional. That's one of the biggest mistakes that people can make outside of standing on the table with a lamp on their head."

You want to be seen as a team player, according to Swann. And it's noted which people are missing.

"Making your presence known, even if just for a short while, is important so that as you move on into the new year, folks will recognize, OK, they participated," she said.

Dress to impress

While all workplaces are different, there are ways to make sure you dress appropriately for the party, Swann advised.

"Connect with either the [party] committee or double check the invitation," she said. "If you're new at the company, ask some of the senior folks who are there who've been to the office parties before, just so you get an idea of that wardrobe and dress accordingly."

And keep it classy.

"If it's festive, be very careful. For folks who are wearing dresses, it doesn't need to be cut all the way down to your navel, or so short that when you bend over we see everything," Swann warned.

But there is room to be playful.

"The light-up suit is fun. The tie that's super festive or something like is great," said Swann.

Conversation starters

Another no-no for the work holiday party is talking too much about the job, according to Swann.

"Do not go to the office party asking for a promotion. Don't go there complaining about things as far as the business is concerned," she said. "This is your opportunity for people to connect with you and see that you are likable."

Swann suggested some topics of conversation - like asking about a vacation that a colleague might have taken. But if you do have to resort to work-related chat:

"Be prepared to... compliment someone on an achievement or a milestone that they made during the year," Swann recommended.

Of course, there's one sure-fire way to make sure you're ready to talk about current affairs.

"Listen to NPR and see what's going on in the world!" said Swann.

Whatever you choose, Swann said it's all about letting people know that you're likable and approachable.

Happy Holidays!

The audio for this story was produced by Kaity Kline. Treye Green edited the digital story.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adam Bearne
Adam Bearne is an editor for Morning Edition who joined the team in August 2022.