The company holiday party is, undoubtedly, coming up. That can mean anything from a potluck in the office to a fancy ball with dinner and dancing, but regardless, you need to behave properly. When one needs to behave properly at a function, to whom does one turn? Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, of course. So, Gentle Readers, listen up and learn from the best of the best, with lots of commentary thrown in from me. (Also, please note, that some of this advice comes with the help of Nicholas Martin and Jacobina Martin, Miss Manner's children.)
1. The Office Potluck
This is an appropriate party as long as everyone has agreed to it. If it's dictated from on high, it doesn't go over well. Now, unlike a small friend get-together, an office party has people there who probably don't want to be there. You'll never get 100 percent consensus on anything in an office, but if the majority agree, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's okay.
Do prepare things in a clean environment. It's okay to pick up something at the grocery store. Bring things that keep well and won't get icky after sitting on a conference room table for a few hours. If your office has facilities to plug in a crockpot, great. If you have a large enough fridge to accommodate dishes, awesome. Otherwise, be super careful about hot or cold food. The last thing you want is an office-wide food poisoning epidemic.
2. Party Gifts
Gifts are great, but they flow in one direction-downward. The boss buys presents for the staff. The staff doesn't buy presents for the boss. Miss Manners recommends a bonus or time off. This may be why we love Miss Manners.
My advice: If you are the boss and you don't want to give a bonus or time off (or your bosses won't allow either of those), take your employees into consideration. Make sure they drink before giving alcohol. Don't give everyone a copy of your favorite book. Gift certificates should either be universal-like a Visa or Amex card, or at least widely accepted, like a mall certificate. Don't give it to a specific store because it's likely to go to waste unless you know your employee regularly shops there.
What about coworker gift exchanges? Miss Manners says, "There's this enormous social pressure to participate in holiday gift-giving. So organize the whole office and agree not to give presents." If you can't nip this in the bud (or, in practical terms, if you're one of the people that loves holiday gift giving), try doing a Secret Santa, where each person only has to buy a gift for one other person, or a Pollyanna, where everyone brings generic gift worth less than $20, and you play a game to see who gets what. Never, ever, force someone to participate in a gift exchange. They may not have the money. They may not celebrate the holiday. They may feel uncomfortable with the idea. Gift giving should be fun and when it's not, strike it down.
3. The Evening Party
If your company throws a party outside of working hours, attendance should be voluntary. If it's not, all non-exempt staff must be paid for their time. (That's not from Miss Mannes, that's from the Fair Labor Standards Act.) Unless the party is compulsory (which it should not be), all you need to do to not go is say, "I'm sorry, I won't be able to make it." When pressured, the classic Miss Manners response is, "I'm sorry, but it won't be possible." Lather, rinse, repeat.
Bosses, please recognize that not everyone likes a party. Not everyone wants to hire a babysitter to hang out with colleagues that one spends 40+ hours a week with anyway. Not everyone likes these events. Lots of people do, but coming to the holiday party vs. not coming to the holiday party does not indicate whether an employee is loyal or hardworking or whatever.
Spouses and significant others should be invited to an evening event, as a couple is a social unit. Don't get all nit picky about the relationship involved. Miss Manners says, "A married couple (or whatever passes for it these days) is a social unit. Two adult sisters who choose to live together may be a social unit." She wrote that way back in 1993, and the advice still stands. Don't interrogate your employees as to the relationship between them and their companions.
Many companies want to limit costs and want to limit invitations to employees and spouses only, which mean the singles are out of luck. Don't do this. Now, it's perfectly fine for the spouses and significant others to opt out, but if the company can't afford a plus 1, then have the party during work hours. Making it an evening event makes it a social event.
This one should be easy: Don't get drunk. It's never that easy, though. (Yes, it is. Don't get drunk!) You should know your own limitations. Stick to them. Please do. Your plus one (spouse, sibling, or ex-boyfriend who is doing you a favor) should not get drunk either.
What if the boss is absolutely plastered? You should still not get drunk. Do not be the person who needs hair held while you vomit. Do not be the person someone else has to call a cab for. Do not get drunk.
Also, and I shouldn't have to say this to adults, but do not pressure other people to drink. If you're not comfortable with someone else drinking Sprite, then you need to evaluate your relationship with alcohol. (True story: I was at a party recently, drinking water. Another guest, a woman in her 40s, kept insisting that I drink wine. I politely turned her down, and finally said, "It's against my religion," to which she replied, "It's against my religion too, and I'm drinking!" I then, not exactly politely, replied, "What are you, 12?" She did stop after that.)
An after hours party is a social event, but it's a work related one. This means you should be on your best behavior. Anything you do can and will be held against you by your HR department. Yes, you can be fired for sexually harassing someone while drunk at the company party.
If the company offers alcohol at the party, the company may be held liable for any accidents that occur on the way home. Therefore, consider arranging for transportation, or limiting the amount of available alcohol.
5. Have fun!
I promise, with all these caveats, you can still have fun. Really.