OK. I’ll admit that this isn’t just about whether or not to dance with your boss at an office Christmas or holiday party of any kind. After all, if the boss asks you, it’s hard to say no, unless you want to carry that limp you’re pretending to have into the following work week.
This post is actually about how your choices at an office party — and any mistakes you make — might affect your job and even career well beyond the holidays. Then again, does any of that even matter if everyone else is letting loose and having a good time all around you?
An office Christmas party I remember
Many moons ago, I worked for a major record label, and when they threw a party it was amazing. I was young and spirited and fresh out of school, and quite unaware of all the intricacies of office politics — and how many eyes are busy making notes, even when the music is playing and (especially) when drinks are flowing freely.
I remember feeling extra festive in my new red silk dress, and was excited to get to party with music celebrities and top industry execs. I naively thought of the party as totally separate from my tedious job in finance. Finally, instead of spending my day with spreadsheets and music sales stats, I could let loose and just have fun — we all could!
My boss and I had a great working relationship and often kidded around at work. So, when I danced with him, although it was all quite innocent and perhaps the couple of drinks I had helped things along, well … let’s just say that the way I danced with my boss left a bit of a awkwardness afterward.
Luckily, he was a good guy, and there was no lurid follow-up for me to deal with, which is not always the case. But I did get teased by co-workers, and (I was later told) there was one woman who talked about me behind my back as a result. Not the best impression seeds to plant in a new job.
Like it or not, you’re on display
You might be thinking who the heck cares. If others are busy judging in a way that can be used against you, then it’s not the place for me. Or something like that. And that’s a valid choice.
BUT … if you want to emerge unscathed from what ideally is meant to be a fun evening, at least be aware of the watchful eyes all around. I’m not suggesting you be paranoid or so on guard that you have a miserable evening and wind up being a party-pooper. Having a good time with co-workers can help leave a good “she’s someone I’d like to work with” impression.
This just isn’t the time for lampshades on your head, or telling the loudest, dirtiest jokes, or bumping and grinding when you dance, or flirting shamelessly, or drinking to excess, even if your boss is doing it. And if you’re a woman (sorry to sound sexist), you run the risk of being branded even more than a male would.
So how should you behave?
No one really has the right to tell you what YOUR morals are, or what your instincts tell you about boundaries in a given situation. You’re an adult and can decide what choices make sense for you. And there are companies where cultural boundaries of how to behave are clearly more relaxed — although I still advise women that being seen as a fun woman doesn’t always translate into “Let’s give her a chance to lead that new project.”
I just want you to really get that an office party, no matter how free and wild it seems, does not disappear like Brigadoon. If you wander too far out of the standard boundaries, people will talk and remember. And not only may it follow you in that job, it may get passed on for years to come, even when you move to a new company.
One more thing I want to add … unfair as it may be, women are all too often judged more harshly and held to higher standards then men. It’s just the way it is. And impressions, once formed, can last forever.
All that said, if you just remember that you’re basically still in the office and try not to make any major mistakes (staying sober helps), parties are a great time to connect with co-workers and … yes … have fun.
Do you have any office party stories of your own? I’d love to hear them!
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