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Company Christmas Party Survival Guide

Christmas party

How do you want to be remembered at the Company Christmas Party?

Company Christmas Party

The typical post from HR around this time of year would discuss why we call the Company Christmas Party the “Holiday Party”. We discuss the merits of how we need to be sensitive to different cultures and blah, blah, blah. I am a minority and I do appreciate the sentiment but today I will be the Grinch that Stole the Christmas party. I don’t want to just talk about “What” behavior you should avoid, but importantly “Why”, and “How” your manager and HR department view holiday party behavior. We see plenty of lists that say “how not to act” but in typical HR fashion, without explanation.  Christmas parties, I mean “Holiday parties” are like interviews.  Prior behavior is an indicator of future behavior and relates to your career and the business.

How do managers and HR really view the Christmas party (I mean Holiday party)? Each year, I not only hear from individual contributors, I hear from colleagues in both HR and management, how someone at a holiday party did one thing or another that will stay with them for the rest of their career.  The sad thing is that employees won’t even know that their holiday party behavior is what is holding them back.  Everyone in HR will.  No one will remember you performing the Heimlich maneuver to save someone’s life. If your life was saved via this maneuver, don’t worry about being embarrassed because the bar will be lower. Much lower.

We think that getting drunk is OK at the Christmas party (I mean Holiday party) because no one is let go the next day. It isn’t OK. It is a straw on the camel’s back and these straws add up. In this economy, you don’t want any extra straws. In this economy, it takes fewer straws to break the back.  Memorable Holiday Party behavior isn’t just a straw; it is the 70-pound bale of hay. You could have had the Million Dollar 4th quarter, but you will be remembered for dancing on the table long after that commission is donated to charity. The stories that people remember and talk about YEARS later, are not how you were successful at Acme Publishing, but how you got drunk and embarrassed yourself.  What do you remember about your past holiday parties?

CLM = Career Limiting Move

1.  Most HR websites advise you to NOT drink on this night.  If you are going to drink, eat something beforehand so you don’t arrive on an empty stomach.  You may see an open bar and top-shelf alcohol “on the house”. I see lewd and obnoxious behavior waiting to happen. It is usually an hour or so before dinner is actually served and this isn’t Friday night where your wallet paces your drinking.  This is a celebration, and someone else is paying.  Pace yourself.  The first job out of school usually means the first experience with an “open bar”. Happens every year.

 Your behavior answers the question: can you be trusted with the company credit card to entertain clients?

 2.  Avoid complaints about your job or your manager.  Alcohol always loosens the tongue and it is easy to bitch about something.  With unemployment in the double digits, be glad you have a job.  You never know who will be around the corner.  

Your behavior interpreted:  Companies appreciate employees who will be not only supportive of their company but more importantly about their customers. If you will bitch about someone, the thought is that you will probably bitch about customers or management.

3.  Wear something nice.  Wear what is appropriate for the occasion. Make sure it is clean and presentable. If jeans are appropriate, wear clean jeans.  Don’t wear your “I am going to walk my hem off”, torn jeans to the party. Not everyone understands the distressed, ripped, $250.00 jeans look. There will be people who don’t get that fashion statement. There will be people who don’t appreciate that statement and they are usually the ones who have an influence on your career. Don’t try and prove a point by wearing something casual if the dress code is otherwise.  Seriously. CLM.  The company is spending a lot of money to show appreciation. Don’t give them the finger.

Your behavior indicates: If you aren’t able to dress appropriately when asked, can you follow directions? Will you represent the company to the outside appropriately?

4.  Single Man or Woman? No flirting. Be remembered for your intellect.

Once you are labeled as less than a mind and more than a flirt in the work context, you might as well quit. You will be looked at as an individual contributor, not a leader or role model. Guys are pigs/creeps and women can be tough. Even if it isn’t true, everyone listens to gossip.

5.  Show up.  Not showing up to the company party is taken as a blatant statement. You just said: “I don’t want to spend time with you people, and even free food and alcohol isn’t enough to bring me out.” It is insulting. If you have a good reason to be absent, we get that, but we also remember it. We really remember making a habit of not showing up to company functions. You won’t get fired, but you won’t get promoted with this move.

Behavior indicates:  Do you WANT to entertain clients, onboard new hires, manage others? The company needs to believe that you not only “can” make an impact, but you “want” to. You drink the company Kool-Aid.

6.  Send a thank you card to your manager, department head, or CEO. Depending on the size of your company you should be able to figure out who the appropriate person is. They spent a TON of money on this function, and in this economy, this is no easy feat. Trust me, 2 out of 100 will do this. You are not sucking up, you are saying “thank you”.  It is civilized; it is the right thing to do.

Behavior Indicates: Will you take care of the customer? Will you follow-up? Can you say thank you even when you have been declined the account?

7.  Make sure your spouse is on their best behavior and dressed appropriately. You want to be remembered for your business mind, not that your home life is a wreck or your spouse is a home wrecker. Think of it this way. Your spouse meeting your manager is equivalent to your spouse meeting your parents. Your department head or VP is your grandparent. Who you bring to social events makes an impact on your personal friends. It makes the same impact on your co-workers. If you show up with a spouse that behaves, dresses, drinks or eats inappropriately, it might as well be you.  Managers want confidence in their employees.  It is NOT that they want to know there are no distractions and the home life is good. They could care less. But any dip in your behavior or performance will be rationalized if they suspect your home life isn’t stable. It’s called gossip and there is a reason The Enquirer sells.

Behavior indicates: Back to entertaining guests and hosting parties. Do they have to worry about your spouse is supportive of you and the company?

8.  Make introductions. Introduce your spouse to your manager and department head. If children are present, introduce them. It shows you are not embarrassed by your family and are proud of your co-workers. Your spouse should introduce themselves if you two get separated.  Say goodbye to these same people before you leave. Don’t just “duck out”.

9.  Don’t drive drunk. Get a ride, call a cab or crash on the floor. If you work in an HR department, provide cab vouchers.

See you at the after party,


HRNasty works for a privately held start-up alongside a small and dedicated group of geeks, hipsters, and technical badasses.  These are individuals that put in 18-hour days and pull all-nighters.  These folks answer their phones at midnight and return emails at 2 in the morning.  They took pay cuts, title cuts, and commute 90 minutes to work with each other.  Simply put, they sacrifice.   Our Christmas party is to say “thank you” to not just them for their hard work, but to their spouses for the patience and flexibility.  We will serve alcohol and plenty of it.   Fun has a different definition for everyone, and we don’t just respect that, we embrace it.   My hope is that this is the best party folks will attend all year-long.   Together we are building a culture of “work harder than you ever have and play harder than you ever have”, where the management team will blow off steam at a pace that will be hard to follow.  I came to this company to work in a place where people can concentrate on their work and not what others think, where there are no rules, only guidelines.  Meritocracy plain and simple.   

Thanks for allowing me to be part of this special group.  Look for me out on the deck that night.  I will have plenty of cigars for anyone interested, and hope we relax, talk shop, and dream about 2012.  The only rule we will ask folks to be conscious of is item number 9 above.  Please use the voucher.       

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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