Today is ordinarily the day when I tell you about some comedic happening in DC, why you should go see it, and when some malcontent starts snarking in the comments about whether or not the comedian in question is funny. But not today. Why?
It’s December, and the back and upstairs rooms of bars and restaurants that house the semi-pro comedy scene in DC are largely booked up for that most dangerous of winter distractions: The Office Holiday Party.
The Office Holiday Party is a sneaky beast, with the volatile mixture of alcohol and coworkers, holiday spirit and people you would not otherwise choose to socialize with. For couples, there’s often double the holiday party peril, with the added landmine of introducing a spouse or partner to that geechy dude in Accounting. I’ve got some advice for you on how to get through the most common hazards of the season with your dignity- and your paycheck- intact.
1. The Open Bar – First of all, understand that just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to drink ALL of it. Oh yes, I know it’s hard to resist running up the bar tab on the boss that’s been riding your ass all year, but believe me when I say that he won’t lighten up and trust you more after scraping you up off the floor and pouring you into a cab. (You think I’m exaggerating? I went to a company party once and saw no fewer than 5 people pass out, one of whom had to leave the party in an ambulance.) There’s nothing wrong with having a couple of drinks with your colleagues, but save the binge drinking for the people who love you, rather than the people who pay you. And while you’re at it, keep an eye on your team members, especially if you’re a manager. If you see someone starting to lose their good judgment, run interference for them. They’ll thank you later.
2. Party Dress – Look, I know that totally cute cocktail dress looks awesome on you, but if there’s a lot of visible cleavage… cover up with something. Because not everyone will be following my open bar advice, and alcohol has a funny way of making people stare right AT your boobs. And speaking of the intersection of the open bar and party clothes- remember the sacred relationship between your blood alcohol content and the height of your stiletto heels. It’s pretty hard to walk in on Monday with your head held high when you went ass-over-teakettle and showed the whole office your garters on Friday night.
3. Party Chatter – No, that joke about the Asian guy with the funny-sounding name is still not funny. No one is interested in your opinion about the new President’s religion. Jesus might be the reason for the season, but explaining it to your coworkers isn’t going to convert them. The VP does indeed look very nice, but she does not need for you to elaborate specifically why. And yes, that racist/sexist joke your date told DOES reflect on you. Stick to the safe topics- sports, the catering at the party, movies, etc. Yeah, I know it’s shallow, but so’s your bank account these days- we’re in a recession. Remember three words: “Hostile Work Environment.”
4. The Secret Santa – Oh god, how I hate these things. You have to buy some cheap-o gift for someone you barely know OR like in the name of “holiday spirit,” and then everyone does the same two things: Starbucks or Borders gift cards. Lame. Don’t do that. A nice box of stationery can be inexpensive AND thoughtful, and don’t forget to look for good deals on Etsy. If you ask a local Etsy seller nicely, you might even be able to pick up directly from them to avert a last-minute Secret Santa emergency.
5. The Internet - Someone is going to have a camera. Someone is going to be posting these pictures somewhere. If you’re lucky, it might just be the employee bulletin board or the company Intranet. But more and more companies have Flickr, Facebook, etc. now, and your slurred-speech, drooling pass at the hottie in Marketing stands a good chance of being immortalized forever in public. There’s only one way to avoid this hazard: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your mother.
6. Potluck – Just what I want, to eat food prepared by people I may not know or like, with their questionable cooking skill, and their questionable knowledge of food safety practices. Salmonella is NOT festive. When deciding what to bring, don’t forget to consider your refrigeration/reheating options and choose something that will stand up to the logistics of the situation. My go-to is guacamole, because I can just bring all the ingredients to the office and assemble it right before the party. And it wouldn’t hurt to pack a little lunch of your own and stash it away should you find your coworkers’ culinary stylings to not be all that.
7. You Still Have to Work With These People – Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be a casual social time. But just like with your friends, everything you do goes into other people’s overall perception of you. So the responsibility to be professional doesn’t end just because you’re out to dinner.