At best, you probably think of your company holiday as a boring event you're forced to attend. At worst, it's a big drunken debacle where awkwardness and inappropriate behaviour abounds. You can't control what your coworkers do, but you can make sure you survive the party with your dignity intact -- and even improve your work life in the process.
Dress Festively, But Professional
The first question we all have to wrestle with when the party draws near: do you dress for work, or dress for a party? The answer will differ depending on your company, but dressing up is always better than dressing down. This goes double in a company setting like your holiday party, even if it is a casual company with a no-holds-barred extravaganza. These are still your co-workers and bosses, and while you definitely don't have to dress up in your usual suit and tie, it's a good idea to err on the side of professional whenever possible (so save the lampshade or the low-cut dress for your friend's party instead).
Eat Before You Go
Most parties will have food, but you shouldn't rely on it for your night's sustenance. Generally, eating at the party carries a few problems. Hors d'oeuvres can vary, but often include things that are overly salty, greasy or sweet. Not only can these make you thirsty -- thus prompting you to drink more alcohol, as Business Insider notes -- but it's not ideal food when you're going to be shaking everyone's hand all night. Plus, chowing down on buffalo wings while talking to your coworkers is never a pretty sight (even if you eat them with one hand).
Instead, grab some dinner with your date or a few coworkers beforehand. That way, you can have an hors d'oeuvre here and there, but you won't be scarfing down food while you try to make small talk, and you can ensure you eat food that will slow the absorption of alcohol (like foods high in starch, fat, and/or protein). Picture: US Army Africa/Flickr.
Alternate Between Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Drinks
Alcohol is a staple of many holiday parties, but its also the most common catalyst for a disastrous night. After all, we all know what alcohol does to your brain and body, and your boss is probably the last person you want to witness your drunken antics.
Obviously, you can avoid drinking altogether, but if you want to have a few drinks and loosen up, that's fine -- just don't overdo it. Limit yourself to one or two drinks for the night, and alternate them with non-alcoholic drinks -- especially water. This will help moderate you and ensure you aren't the one everyone's talking about on Monday.
Talk to As Many People As Possible (and Make a List Beforehand)
Now that we've gotten the "dont's" out of the way, let's talk about how you can make this party beneficial. This is still a work event, and it's a great opportunity to meet other people at the company, especially the higher-ups, without taking time out of their busy day. The Wall Street Journal mentions that it's a good idea to talk to those you don't usually see:
A party can be a good opportunity to meet workers in other parts of your organisation. "Talk to people you don't normally talk to," Mr. Pinnock says. "It helps to build relationships that can carry over into day-to-day activities."
When clients are present, try to talk to a few that aren't necessarily yours. "You are not trying to get business out of this person," says Ms. Post. "You are being a good host by making that person welcome and chatting with them."
Monster recommends making a list of people beforehand, so you have a strategy before you go to the party:
It's tempting to hang out all evening with your usual office cronies. But career expert Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions, says that before the party, you should prepare a list of people it would be beneficial to talk to. "It's a smart idea to schmooze with the boss, your coworkers and your office rival -- just so everyone knows the competition is friendly," she says.
Above all, though, don't spend too much time with one person or get into any long, in-depth conversations (particularly about work). About.com recommends limiting your conversations to just a few minutes, and then moving onto someone else. It's OK to have a real conversation -- you don't have to just talk about the weather with every person -- but don't drone on with your life story when you (and they) have other people to meet.
Thank Your Host and Get Home Safely
Lastly, when the night is over, make sure you leave at an appropriate time, thank your host and get home safely. If you've had a bit too much to drink, make sure you call yourself a cab and avoid other drunk drivers on the way home ('tis the season, after all). And if you're hung over the next morning -- which means you didn't really follow rule #3 -- get rid of it effectively the next day so you can get back to work.