insight magazine

Six Holiday Office Party Don'ts

Sure, have fun—but cross the line and you'll be paying for it all year long. By Bridget McCrea | Digital Exclusive - 2017

Party Guy

Holiday parties—they’re the thing of legend. Remember the year Pete fell headfirst into the punch bowl? Or that time Eileen serenaded the Director of Finance with Santa Baby?

While the word “party” may entice you to show the true you in all its glory, the word “office” should be paramount in your mind—particularly given the age of social media (what happens at the office party does not stay at the office party).

“Whether it's a holiday celebration or a summer picnic, you should be careful not to check your professional reputation at the door,” writes Dawn Rosenberg McKay in What You Should and Should Not Do at an Office Party. “While this event will give you the opportunity to socialize with your coworkers, you should be aware that it is still a work event.”

David Jacobson, founder of TrivWorks, a corporate event entertainment production company in New York, says professionals should strive for balance—have fun and enjoy yourself, but don’t forget to maintain your composure.

“CPAs tend to be a very buttoned-up, professional group as a whole, but when they get into a ‘party’ environment that can change pretty quickly,” says Jacobson, who has orchestrated numerous CPA-related events over the years. “While holiday parties can be an opportunity to get to know one another in a fun and festive way, there are also boundaries to keep in mind.”

Here are six things you shouldn’t do.

1. Drinking like there’s no tomorrow

Don’t get us wrong, it’s okay to toss a few back with your colleagues. Just don’t forget that you’re technically still “at the office” and you’ll have to go back to managing or being managed by those colleagues tomorrow.

“Despite the casual environment, what you do at an office party can be detrimental to your career,” says Jon Minners, a career expert at “Drinking irresponsibly and acting inappropriately says a lot about your judgment and your employers will take note of your behavior.”

2. Giving your outfit the ‘whoa’ factor

If you normally wear business attire to the office, going casual can be a nice change of pace. But don’t go overboard. Been dying to wear that kilt? Um, the office party may not be the best time to channel your inner Scotsman. Think you look great in that strappy little number you picked up at Akira? Maybe save it for your night out clubbing with the girls.

3. Letting your hair down—all the way

Follow the same rules you’d follow in the workplace when it comes to what you say and what you do, says Jacobson. Let your inhibitions fly too high and your joviality could be mistaken for offensiveness at best, and sexual harassment at worst.

“When people get into the party environment, inhibitions can come down pretty quickly,” says Jacobson. “Even though you’re there to have a good time, remember that the rules of good workplace behavior still apply.”

“The party is an extension of the office setting,” Minners adds, “so treat your coworkers with the same respect you would treat them within the office.”

4. Spending too much on your Secret Santa gift

According to Lisa Grotts of Expert Etiquette and the manners blogger at Huffington Post, going over the spending limit for your Secret Santa gift is a not-so-subtle sign that you're disregarding the boss' rules and trying to outshine your colleagues. Chances are they don't want their noses rubbed in your over-achievement, Grotts points out, so stick to the allotted amount and don't get too fancy with the presentation.

5. Disrespecting your coworkers’ cultures

Not everyone revels in Santa, and not everyone celebrates the same holidays. Some of your coworkers may not celebrate the holidays at all. It goes without saying, then, that you should always be inclusive—which means being sensitive to an individual’s cultural mores and beliefs. Something as seemingly insignificant as using white wrapping paper for your Japanese colleague might be considered culturally insensitive, since white is associated with death in Japanese culture. Similarly, write your gift card in red ink for your Chinese coworker and you are symbolically severing your relationship. In other words, take a minute to do your research—and show that you take a serious interest in your colleagues as individuals.

6. Overstaying your welcome

We all love to have a good time, but making a graceful exit before the lights shut off is a good idea at any party.

“An office party is still a professional party, so act professionally,” says Minners. “That includes arriving on time and leaving the party at (or before) the stated ‘end time.’ You don’t want to be that person who is there at the very end of the night.”

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