Work Christmas party etiquette: How to act appropriately during your office bash

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Office Christmas party etiquette can be difficult to master. [Photo: Getty]

Most of us know what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour at work.

Wishing your colleagues good morning and doing the occasional tea round: good. Having a teary, domestic quarrel with your spouse using your work phone: bad.

But the lines can easily blur when it comes to the office Christmas party.

Faced with colleagues in an unfamiliar setting, plus generous amounts of free booze, some workers may forget their usual professional inhibitions. This could lead to potentially career-damaging consequences: for instance, getting embarrassingly drunk, or making inappropriate romantic advances.

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Over a quarter of people said they had left an office party because they were too drunk, while nearly one in four admitted to kissing a colleague at this time of year, according to a survey conducted by Cartridge People.

With this in mind, we spoke to Lucy Hume, associate director of Debrett’s, to find out the dos and don’ts of Christmas party etiquette.

My workplace is paying for an open bar – should I avoid at all costs?

Enjoying “a few glasses” is fine, says Hume – “but don’t be the casualty everyone is talking about (and sniggering at) the next day. If things start feeling dangerous, call it a night.”

She advises the following steps to avoid getting too drunk: “Remember the basics: avoid shots, eat well, alternate drinks with water.”

That said, don’t feel pressured into drinking if you don’t want to – you should feel able to abstain from drinking “for cultural reasons or out of personal preference”.

Is this the time to try my luck with Joe from Accounts?

Hume suggests not all flirting need be regarded as inappropriate, adding that “light, enjoyable social flirting” might be OK – because it “put those around them at ease” – but only when done as a social tool rather than with romantic intention.

However, she cautions: “If you are in any doubt as to the other person’s situation or willingness to flirt, stick to making friendly but neutral conversation.”

Is hugging allowed?

Hugging in the workplace has received something of a shady reputation recently – Ted Baker founder Ray Kelvin was made to resign earlier this year amid a “forced hugging” row.

Yet, for those of us who count certain colleagues among our close friends, shaking hands would understandably seem wrong.

Hume says you should assess “your relationship with the person you are greeting” in order to gauge what’s appropriate.

“If you are close colleagues or friends, a greeting with a hug is perfectly acceptable, but if you are meeting for the first time or are unfamiliar with the person a firm handshake is the safer option,” she adds.

How do I go about dancing without making a fool of myself or being inappropriate?

As for dancing, Hume says: “As the night progresses you may think you’re becoming a better dancer, but the opposite is usually true. If you’ve turned into a sweaty, uncoordinated muddle of flailing limbs it is time to call it a night.”

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“Stick to dancing in groups rather than dancing closely with one other, unless you want to be gossiped about the next day.”

What are the big no-nos?

“The golden rule for any office Christmas party is not to get too drunk, and don’t show up late to work the following day unless you have been given permission to do so,” says Hume.

You should also avoid “out-ing” your colleagues for any regrettable behaviour the next day. “Remember that not all topics of conversation are suitable for office chit-chat, especially in an open plan environment, so don’t embarrass your colleagues by discussing inappropriate or personal topics, and resist the temptation to gossip about other members of staff,” she adds.

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