Office holiday parties can be tricky. On the one hand, you may feel encouraged to attend because all of your colleagues have agreed to be present. But on the other hand, you may have real concerns about what's expected of you and what behavior will be tolerated at the event.
In light of Harvey Weinstein and several other sexual harassment allegations, a recent survey by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. shows that 11 percent of employers say they will not hold an office holiday party this year after holding one in the past. For those who are still holding a party, 48.7 percent said they will serve alcohol this year, down from 62 percent last year.
Lauren X. Topelsohn, a member of the Labor and Employment Practice at the law firm Mandelbaum Salsburg, says companies shouldn't cancel their parties. While she understands the concerns around workplace misconduct, she tells CNBC Make It that the annual event is a way to "thank employees for their contributions."
She and Alexa Fischer — a speaker, confidence coach and Udemy instructor — share the below do's and don'ts to ensure everyone has a smooth holiday party experience.
1. Do use this opportunity to connect with new people
It's easy to walk into a room and only chat with the colleague who sits in the cubicle next to you. But with holiday parties bringing everyone in the company together for a once-a-year event, Fischer says "talking to people you always talk to is a really missed opportunity."
With professionals of all ranks at this event, the holiday party could be your time to score a conversation with the executive or manager you've always wanted to connect with.
"Make that opportunity and connection happen, as chances are people's barriers are down," she adds.
2. Don't use this opportunity to flirt and make inappropriate remarks
It's important to note that there are boundaries to networking that do not include flirting, touching and inappropriate comments. Despite the alcohol flowing and music in the background, maintaining professional behavior is still expected no matter how relaxed the atmosphere may seem.
"Watch out for dancing, hugs and uncomfortable party games like 'Truth or Dare,'" says Topelsohn. "And then, of course, any jokes and remarks about someone else's appearance."
When introducing yourself to someone new, or even when talking to a colleague you already know, stick to a professional handshake and refrain from any extra touching that can make someone feel violated.
3. Do dress up
Not all holiday parties have a strict dress code. However, Fischer says it may be in your best interest to dress up.
No, a formal gown or tuxedo may not be necessary. But if you work for a company whose work culture is a bit more corporate, you may not want to show up in your casual Friday outfit either. Keep in mind that first impressions are everything and you never know what executive or department head you may meet.
To be in the safe zone, wear a business casual outfit like a blazer and slacks, a knee-length dress or a button-down shirt with a tie.
4. Don't wear anything you wouldn't be comfortable wearing to a client meeting
"On the one hand, you may want to dress up, but I do think that even at the holiday party you want to be somewhat mindful and ask yourself, 'Would I be comfortable showing up in this outfit if I was going to meet my best prospective client,'" says Fischer.
If your answer is no, then consider an outfit change, as a holiday party is still a professional event and a part of your career.
5. Do give gender-neutral gifts
If your company is participating in a gift exchange at this year's holiday party, then gender-neutral gifts are your best bet to avoid offending anyone.
"Even if it is clothes, stay gender-neutral with gloves and hats," says Topelsohn, who advises professionals to also avoid giving perfumes. "Some people may think gift cards are impersonal, but it is certainly safe."
No matter how well you may know a colleague, always avoid giving anything sexual like lingerie or pajamas.
6. Don't drink beyond your limit
While this may seem like an obvious rule, many people fall victim to having one too many drinks at a holiday party.
"When you treat this as your opportunity to let loose and drink too much, many people don't realize how much their personality changes," says Fischer. "Despite the holiday party being a time to celebrate, it can be a real trap, and you want to use an abundance of caution and know your limits."
For employers looking to enforce a drinking limit, Topelsohn suggests giving each guest a limited number of drinking tickets and to hire professional servers who can keep an eye out for anyone visibly intoxicated. In light of today's climate regarding inappropriate workplace activity, she also suggests employers select someone to monitor the party.
"You should have someone in management and in HR to see if someone is getting stuck in an uncomfortable situation, whether it is inappropriate touching, too much hugging or a conversation that is taking a bad turn."
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