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7 dos and don’ts of office parties

Shindig at work? Party hearty. Just be sure to behave appropriately

office party dos and don'ts

You’ve just stacked away the punch bowl used for holiday cheer at the office and now you have to bring it back down for the receptionist’s baby shower. Might as well keep it out for your director’s retirement next week. Sometimes it seems that all you do with your co-workers is party.

Have fun, of course, but beware: attending social events with colleagues is not the same as letting loose with friends. Make a wrong move and the way you celebrate with workmates may well be used against you and your career.

You can have your cake and eat it too. The key to doing so is to not make a mess, resist offending anyone, maintain a positive image and ensure that office productivity isn’t tested. Here are some guidelines to help you enjoy office parties without fear.

1. Get a stamp of approval from the big boss

I know this one is basic but it still bears mentioning. Whatever you’re planning on doing to celebrate during company time – like making an e-vite, shopping for a gift or calling to find the perfect cupcakes – your boss should be in the loop. In fact, the celebration should be pre-approved pretty much all the way up the chain of command.

2. Know the rules

Find out if the activities you’re planning on company property are permitted, including serving alcohol, asking for donations, putting up decorations and keeping cash in your desk. Respect these policies and procedures without exception. Don’t know what they are? Ask human resources. As well, if you’re serving as host at an off-site location, know your responsibilities. Foremost, make sure that all employees have a way to get home safely.

3. Invite, attend and celebrate equally

To avoid favouritism, make a list establishing the special occasions that your team wishes to recognize. Stick to it. Acknowledge everyone in the same manner. As the organizer, send an invitation to all employees, in all departments. As an invitee, consider your participation as a time to build strategic alliances. You don’t have to be the first to arrive or the last to leave, but do go, especially for your superiors. Your absence will be noticed.

If you have a business conflict, make sure to let the coordinator and your superior know right away. For a nice touch, write a note to be given to the celebrated one by the party coordinator.

4. Keep it brief and inexpensive

The ideal time for special occasions at work is during the one-hour lunch period. To keep costs down, taking turns to make and bring sweet treats is effective. When seeking donations in support of the occasion, ask for the least you can. The amount should be about the price of a fast food lunch – say, between $5 and $10. But make it clear that no one is obliged to give. Circulating an envelope with the card inside will do double duty to ensure that everyone has signed it and that each team member has contributed – at least in spirit. Attach a note with instructions and a list of names to be checked off before passing it on.

5. No games and no gang

Avoid playing themed games. They make people uncomfortable. As well, don’t gang up to talk shop with your usual crew. Use this time to get to know your lesser-known or new workmates. A good question is: “What do you do for fun when you’re not working?” You may be surprised at what you discover.

6. Clean up quickly

Make sure to throw out your personal garbage when you leave the celebration and that you ask the coordinator what you can do, like rearrange tables, to leave the room ready for business as usual.

7. Say ‘thank you’

If you were an attendee, thank the organizer. If you were the guest of honour, also thank the organizer. If you received a gift, make sure to send a thank-you note. Individually handwritten notes are best and most appreciated. A collective email for a group gift is acceptable. One last thought: Celebrating life events at work builds morale and encourages people to bond with colleagues and superiors. Just keep in mind that good party manners can – and will – help push you up the ladder. Conversely, be insensitive or rude and you might just get passed up for a promotion.

The key word in the phrase ‘office party’? Office. ◊