The Top 7 Office Party Gaffes to Avoid

Don't Lose Your Professional Reputation at the Office Party

Office party

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The office party during the holidays or at any other time of the year is a key professional opportunity to mingle casually with coworkers, impress bosses, and get to know people you don’t see every day. Unfortunately, the office party is also a prime opportunity to ruin your professional reputation, alienate coworkers, and fail to capitalize on business networking opportunities.

These are seven common office party blunders. Heed them. Some are missed opportunities, but some may cost you your career, your coworkers' respect, and your professional reputation.

Drinking Too Much at the Office Party

Drinking too much at the office party is the most egregious offense. It’s not just the drinking, though anything excessive is inappropriate at an office party, but the actions that result from over-imbibing.

With normal inhibition affected, drunken office party attendees have been known to make passes at coworkers, harass partners on the dance floor, and touch coworkers in inappropriate and unwanted ways.

The actions of employees who drink too much at the office party aren’t always aimed at coworkers. One executive, after drinking too many martinis, stripped naked and climbed his city’s water tower. Another ran into a pole while driving a company car that was only supposed to be used for business.

If you drink too much at the office party, make amends by apologizing to anyone you may have offended. Don’t ignore your behavior and hope that people didn’t notice or that coworkers will have short memories. They did and they won’t.

Your behavior will be the talk of the office until something new or more interesting happens. At best, coworkers will accept your apology and life moves on. At worst, you are charged with a sexual harassment complaint. Want to go there? Not likely a positive direction. You need to expect and want to avoid the office gossip about your errant behavior.

Dressing Suggestively at the Office Party

Errors in clothing selection for the office party affect coworkers’ opinion of your judgment, credibility, and competence. No matter how festive, the office party is a business occasion; professional, not sexy or suggestive, attire should rule the night.

Does this mean that you can’t dress up in your favorite party dress or pantsuit? Not at all. Just use tasteful discretion in your selection of attire for your office party.

Failing to Attend the Office Party Without a Good Reason

Your company schedules an office party to reward and recognize employees, to provide an opportunity for team building among coworkers, and to promote coworkers getting to know each other informally.

You've heard every possible reason why people don’t attend their office party. The most common reasons involve the office party infringing on their personal family time; a dislike of small talk and social events, in general; and a genuine family or personal event scheduled at the same time.

Only the third reason flies. While you would never advocate mandatory attendance, cooperation with your organization’s mission in paying for the office party signals your commitment to the company and your understanding of the goals of the office party. A couple of hours a year is barely worth a complaint. Let the boss know when a genuine personal or family commitment precludes your attendance.

Flirting With Coworkers or Their Significant Others at the Office Party

Flirting, especially mixed with alcohol, is unwanted at a business event. It is unwelcome, unexpected, and usually—unwanted and even insulting. Flirting that involves touching can result in a sexual harassment complaint in a worst-case scenario.

At best, it annoys coworkers at an event that is supposed to draw people closer together and create a stronger team. At worst, it damages your reputation forever.

Bringing Children or Uninvited Guests to the Office Party

Imagine their surprise when coworkers were introduced, not just to the wife of an employee, but to two cousins who happened to be visiting from out-of-town. Hey, people, what were you thinking?

Bringing uninvited guests, or your children to an adult party distracts you from the mission of the office party, adds to your employer’s expense, and may make legitimate attendees miss out on their share of the food, drink, employee gifts, and company swag.

Most companies specify the expected attendees, the recommended attire, and the schedule of events in advance of the office party. (If you don't currently, you should.) You usually have all of the information you need to comfortably attend your office party if you just read the invitation. You do need to follow the rules as they were laid out by your employer.

Some may even specify that additional guests are welcome—but, most don’t welcome guests—at significant annual office parties.

Forgetting That the Office Party Is Still a Company Business Function

The office party is not the time to complain about your boss or your company. It is a time to get to know your coworkers more personally so that you can work together more effectively in the future.

It is also a chance to chat informally with the bosses and members of departments with whom you don't work every day. With these goals in mind, watch that you listen as much as you talk; draw out your coworkers both to learn and make them feel special. Leave your company complaints, grievances, off-color jokes, and negativity at home.

In fact, don’t talk about work at all. Talking about work leaves significant others out of the conversation. Know the goals of the function and cooperate to achieve them at the office party. You'll have a better time and regret nothing.

Being the Last to Leave the Office Party

No matter how much fun you’re having or how much you’re enjoying the band when you stay too long at the office party, you may have overstayed your welcome. The possibility of drinking too much and committing the other six gaffes increases with the passing of time.

Stay a couple of hours, talk to each coworker and the bosses, then graciously and gracefully excuse yourself. Let your reputation live to attend another office party. Avoid career suicide.