How to navigate the office Christmas party – and actually have fun

It's a fine line.

As the year comes to a close, there is a collective sigh of relief in most offices as things begin to wind down. Our to-do lists start becoming “a problem for next year” as we enter holiday mode. One of the annual traditions of most workplaces is, of course, an office Christmas party. This is a celebration to reward employees for another year of hard work, and an opportunity to socialise and team build outside of the office.

“An office Christmas party is a wonderful opportunity to connect with your colleagues and celebrate the season,” says relationship expert and director of Lighthouse Relationships Psychology & Counselling Megan Kozak.

For some, an office Christmas party can be a time of excitement, but for others it can be very anxiety-inducing. There are also the blurred professional lines that often accompany this sort of celebration. In other words, what do you get when you add employees in holiday mode with an open bar? The potential for unprofessional decisions.

In short, the workplace holiday party can be a minefield. Here are the dos and don’ts to keep front of mind when navigating it.

What should you do at the office Christmas party

Create connection

Get to know your colleagues in a different environment. In our current hybrid work environments, there has been a huge shift away from face-to-face opportunities for connection,” says Megan.

“The office Christmas party is a chance to step out from behind the screen and build relationships with colleagues.

“Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, remember that investing a little time and energy in relationships now, can have a wonderful impact later on, both personally and professionally.”

Get the details upfront

It pays to prepare.

“What is the dress code? Are partners invited? Is there a Secret Santa gift that you need to organise?” are all questions you can ask prior to the event, according to the relationship expert.

“Set yourself up for success by finding out what the expectations are before the event. This will ensure that you feel comfortable and can enjoy the party.”

Thank the organisers

Manners never go out of fashion, and it makes your presence known.

“Before you leave, make sure that you say goodbye to colleagues and employers, and thank the organisers of the event,” Megan suggests.

“Not only is it polite to acknowledge the people around you, it also ensures that you are seen by those who might be considering you for projects or promotions in the new year.”

And what are the don’ts of an office Christmas party?

In short, you don’t want to blur professional lines. So how can you avoid becoming a case-study for poor office party etiquette (and become the subject of a story that’s retold over years)?

“It can be tempting to really let your hair down at an office Christmas party, but it is important to remember that this is still a work event,” says Megan.

Here’s what you should avoid in order to enjoy your night – and the days that follow!

Three female friends celebrating with champagne. They are sitting in a bar and toasting with glasses of champagne.

Don’t drink too much

While a little ‘liquid courage’ may feel like a good idea at the time, be careful not to overdo it,” she says.

“Drinking more than you planned can reduce your inhibitions a little too much for a work event, which can result in you – or your colleagues – feeling embarrassed.”

Don’t post photos of videos without permission.

“What goes on social media, stays on social media – or at the very least can be screen-shotted by any number of people,” Megan explains.

“Ensure that any posts are given the tick of approval from all involved and keep comments positive.”

Don’t spend the party complaining or gossiping

 “It can feel tempting sometimes to find some ‘common enemy intimacy’ with colleagues by complaining or gossiping about the boss or the challenges you’ve experienced over the year,” says the counsellor. “This rarely leads to a positive experience. Connect over positive commonalities and enjoy the party.”

But what about if another colleague is acting unprofessionally, or making those around them feel uncomfortable, what do you do then?

It is completely appropriate to draw a boundary,” insists Megan. “You never need to remain in a conversation or situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. Use humour to defuse a situation if you feel comfortable doing so.

“You can use proximity to make you feel a little more comfortable, by stepping back or away by simply saying that you are off to get another drink or find the bathroom. Try to be polite and direct at the same time, if needed, and remember that ‘no’ can be a full sentence.”

And, of course, always report any unacceptable behaviour to your superiors. 

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