What Not to Say at the Office Holiday Party

Office holiday parties offer a great opportunity to mingle, socialize and network with your co-workers but if you’re not careful they can be a recipe for career disaster.

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“No matter how fun or festive the work party is — it’s still a work function,” said Stacey Carroll, a professor at Western Washington University and a blogger for PayScale. “While family and friends tend to forgive your slip-ups — it’s different at work.”

A slip-up at the office holiday party can stay with you throughout your tenure at the company. In fact, nine out of 10 executives say workers’ office-party antics can affect a person’s career prospects, according to a recent survey by the staffing firm The Creative Group. What’s more, 14 percent of employees say they know someone who has been fired as a result of bad behavior at a holiday party, according to a separate survey by staffing firm Adecco.

So, make sure you’re on your best behavior this year to ensure that come review time, you’re on the boss’s nice list — not the naughty list.

Here are 10 things to avoid saying at this year’s office holiday party.

1. I love a free bar!

The biggest mistake most people make at work functions is drinking too much. Your best bet is to not drink at work functions but if you do — limit it to two drinks.

“When the drinks are flowing freely (literally) it’s hard to resist,” Carroll said. “But with every drink your decision-making abilities decline and that can lead to saying or doing things you’ll regret the next day.”

Announcing that you plan to drink a lot is just an engraved invitation to watch you self-destruct. And let’s just say, there are probably a lot of people who would gladly accept that invitation.

“Most holiday party nightmares have a single cause: too much alcohol,” said Marie McIntyre, a career coach and author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”“Imbibe too freely and you may not even remember how you destroyed your career!”

2. The food stinks. This company is so cheap!

You know how you like to make fun of the office whiner? Well, guess what? You just became him! Avoid being negative at the office party — save that talk for your spouse or roommate when you get home. You don’t need to be known as the office whiner and, more importantly, you don’t need the boss overhearing your negativity right before review time!

Remember, you tend to have to speak louder at parties to overcome the loud music and chatter. So, don’t say anything that you wouldn’t be willing to say on a loudspeaker or at the company staff meeting. Stay positive.

And bad news travels fast. If you say something like, “Surprise, surprise, management went with a cash bar,” that’s going to be repeated multiple times — and with your name attached to it, said Avi Karnani and the workplace experts at GetRaised.com. (i.e., “Ben heard that there’s only a cash bar” or “Did you hear? Ben said cash bar only.”) “There’s a good chance that someone at management level will catch it at least once — and it’ll be tagged to you.

“This is a festive event so even if the venue is cramped, the food is horrible and the 80s music is, well 80s music, put a smile on your face and show your holiday cheer,” advises Arden Clise, a business-etiquette consultantand etiquette columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal.

3. You’re not as big of a jerk as I thought, boss!

This may seem hilarious at the time — but it almost definitely won’t be funny tomorrow.

When you’re in the office, it’s easy to stay in work mode but throw in free food and drink and it’s easy to step out of line.

“The next day, your boss is still your boss and those that report to you are still your responsibility,” Carroll said. “Don’t lose face with anyone by forgetting the ‘hierarchy’ while at the party.”

Remember: If a comedian bombs with a joke about an audience member, he goes on to the next show and probably never sees that person again. If you bomb with a joke about the boss, you have to see him the next day — and everyone else who heard it!

So be respectful of the boss — and your subordinates. Instead of cracking wise at their expense, try thanking them. Everyone likes to be appreciated — especially at the holidays!

4. Hey, how about those third-quarter numbers?
Remember that everyone here spends 40-plus hours at work so even though it’s the one thing you all have in common — try to keep the work talk to a minimum.

“Yes, it’s true work is the primary commonality you share with everyone in your company but it need not be the sole topic of conversation,” Karnani said. “The office holiday party is a chance to learn more about your co-workers in a relaxed (not too relaxed) atmosphere.”

Ask what they’ve been up to outside the office. Find out what they’re interested in. Share stories — and meet friends and family.

“Try talking about something other than work —it’ll feel refreshing!” Karnani said.

Remember that everyone gets uncomfortable at these things — even the executives. If you ask them questions about themselves, “they’ll be impressed by your interest in them,” Clise added.

You can also bring up current events, though listen to your mother and stay away from politics and religion!

5. Wasn’t this year’s holiday bonus a pleasant surprise?!

“No matter who you’re chatting with —a co-worker, your subordinates or even non-employees such as family, friends and guests — talking about bonuses, year-end raises and other compensation-related matters is at the top of the ‘What Not to Say at the Office Holiday Party’ list,” Karnani said.

First of all, you don't know that everyone got a raise so if the people you're talking to didn't — then you just look like a jerk. Second, it opens up the floor to the next question — how much did you get? If you got more, or the other guy got more, one way or the other — it's going to ruin someone's night.

Likewise, this isn’t the time to needle the boss for a raise. Remember, he’s trying to let his hair down and mingle with the people, so let him mingle and have fun — don’t put him on the spot.

As a rule of thumb, Karnani said, “Steer clear of all monetary conversation.”

6. You remember Jim, who left to go work for our biggest competitor? Guess what he’s making now?

In one fell swoop, you’ve just managed to make the people you’re talking to feel bad about themselves and possibly think about leaving and, depending on how loud you’re talking, tick off the boss.

“Talking about how the competition is paying their employees is dicey,” Karnani said. “Don’t talk about it — especially at the holiday party where the walls have ears.”

Even if the boss didn't overhear you at the party, by the time the rumor that "Ben said Jim is making xyz" circulates, there's a very good chance it'll get back to the boss and you, like Lucy, will have some 'splaining to do.

7. Did you hear about the whole Jenn-Mike thing?

Oh how we love office gossip! Especially when it involves an office romance.

But just don’t do it.

“Participating in office gossip is never a good thing,” Karnani said. “It’s an even worse idea while at the office holiday party.”

You never know if Jenn and/or Mike is nearby or one of their good friends is listening. Or, if the boss overheard you — and now you’ve just made yourself look bad and possibly gotten Jenn and Mike in trouble.

“You don’t know who will relay your comments,” Karnani cautioned.

Instead, say something like, “Wow, aren’t these little pizzas delicious?”

If someone circulates that (“Ben said those little pizzas are delicious”) — you’re totally in the clear!

8. Who’s hotter: Ashley or Jessica?

This next one may seem harmless because, unlike Jenn and Mike, Ashley and Jessica didn’t actually do anything. You’re just making conversation and, let’s face it, Ashley and Jessica are hot, right?

Just stop right there. If you have reached the point in the evening where you have turned the topic of conversation to co-workers’ hotness, it’s probably time to go home before you put your job in jeopardy and get slapped with a sexual-harrasment lawsuit.

We’re all human, so it’s OK to acknowledge that Ashley and Jessica are hot — just make sure it’s part of your inner monologue, not an outer dialogue!

9. I never knew you were so cute!

If you’ve moved past talking about the hotness of people on the other side of the room and onto the hotness of the person in front of you, this is a dead giveaway that a) you have had too much to drink and b) you need to leave immediately.

If you are saying this to the boss’s wife then see b) you need to leave immediately, and also c) RUN!

Head to the nearest bar to discuss the cuteness of a stranger whom you will not be seeing at 9am tomorrow (and the next day and the next day) or, better yet, go home.

10. I quit!

Ah, the holidays. It’s a time for giving, sharing — and telling it like it is. Something in the egg nog, maybe, that just makes us all a little more honest — makes us just want to lay all of our cards down on the table and yell, “Ha!”

Look, no one will argue with you if you say you’re unhappy with your job or even if you say you want to quit. Just don’t do it at the holiday party. Not only will you likely regret it tomorrow, but it’s a story that all of your co-workers — and maybe some strangers, thanks to YouTube — will be telling for years.

If you want to quit, do it tomorrow or, better yet – after the new year when you’ve had a chance to send out a few resumes and figure out what you’re going to do next.

Speaking of tomorrow, don’t call in sick, OK? That just says to everyone that you’re a lightweight and couldn’t handle bringing back a bucket of ice, nevermind bringing in new clients. It’ll make them think twice about sending you on a business trip or dinner with a client.

“The bottom line is that you should think of the office party as a big, informal staff meeting where you dress in fancy clothes. If you wouldn’t do it at a staff meeting, then don’t do it at the holiday gala,” McIntyre said.

So, quick recap:

Two drinks. Mingle. Be positive. Especially to the boss. And when your co-workers start to look attractive, it’s time to go.

Happy Holidays!

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