'Common sense is not always that common': What not to do at the office Christmas party

The Christmas office party. Mere mention of the annual party conjures images of drunken people dancing on tables.

Remain classy, coherent and professional

Don't be that guy at the office Christmas party this year, says workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman. (© Ulrik Tofte, thinkstock.com)

The Christmas office party. Mere mention of the annual bashes conjures images of drunken people dancing on tables.

The drama, the drunken scenes and the awkward moments at the water cooler the following Monday have become the stuff of legend.

With the Christmas season upon us, the radio crew behind the Edmonton AM morning show sought out some expert advice on how to avoid embarrassment, and maybe even impress the boss at these perfunctory gatherings.

Business in the front, party in the back 

Getting tipsy with your boss and colleagues rarely seen beyond the work cubicle is filled with pitfalls.

"It's important to recognize that is business first, social second," said Joanne Blake, an image consultant, etiquette expert and president of Style for Success.

"I think that people forget that and think, 'Oh, it's a party, I can let my hair down, wear my slinkiest outfit and flirt with that cute guy in IT."

Though it can be tempting to let loose, your naughty behaviour likely won't be remembered fondly by the boss, Blake said.

Remain coherent and classy, Blake said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"That needs to be top of mind. Your behavior is on display," she said.

"Especially if you're in a marketing or sales role, the people at the top will be observing how you interact with your colleagues and they'll extrapolate and assume that behaviour will be taken externally."

The social butterfly effect

Use your common sense and a little bit of charm. Just don't rely on too much liquid courage. Blake has seen it all. She remembers an especially cringe-worthy Christmas party she attended a few years ago.

"I won't mention the name of the company, but one of their young employees got so drunk she was puking all night," Blake said.

"And there were clients there, which made it doubly awkward."

Don't be exclusive. Be sure to mingle with clients and co-workers outside your department, Blake suggests.

Try to avoid "shop talk" and focus the conversation on people's personal lives. Keep it light. Ask lots of questions.

If your spouse or partner is going to be in tow, be sure they aren't revealing anything that was meant for their ears only, for example those angry rants you have about your least favourite co-worker.

Taboo subjects

"Have a little bit of a conversation about taboo subjects," said Blake.

"We're all human so at the end of the day we'll vent about so and so and we never expect it to go anywhere, but perhaps remind your spouse or significant other what topics are appropriate or inappropriate."

Blake suggests you arrive fashionably late and leave before the party starts to fade.

"You never want to be the last one standing," said Blake.

"You don't want to have the reputation to have nothing else to do, nowhere to go and how awkward is it if everyone has left and the host is looking at their watch trying to figure out how to push you out the door."

Dress for success

What you wear at the office Christmas party says a lot about you, and unless it's part of the theme, you will likely want to leave your collection of ugly Christmas sweaters untouched.

Instead, Blake suggests you go for a polished look that matches the dress code on the invite.

If you don't know what to wear, ask around. You don't want to be the only one showing up in joggers and a moth-eaten T-shirt.

Take a break from social media

While it might be tempting to snap a selfie or check your phone every five minutes, try to keep technology to a minimum. And only post pictures to social media with permission.

"Less is more when it comes to social media. And it's sometimes awkward because people are having alcohol.

"A lot of these things are simple but are not easy when you're in the moment and you're having fun," Blake said.

"Common sense it not always that common."


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

With files from Tanara Mclean