Tips on how to navigate your office holiday party without anxiety

Don't make a fool of yourself at the holiday party. (Thinkstock)
The holiday office party can be a fun way for employees to celebrate a successful year, but in the era of the “Me too” movement, it can also provoke anxiety for both organizers and attendees.

With that push and pull, Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Professor Bill Becker said some companies are thinking of canceling holiday parties altogether, but he doesn’t think that’s the answer.

“Keep in mind that these events are really important to employees and send a signal to employees that the organization values them,” Becker said, noting that it’s a way a business can thank its staff for a year of hard work. “So, I think it’s shortsighted to get rid of them or really scale them back too much.”

Instead, he suggested trying to prevent office party problems before they happen. Consider spelling out rules and guidelines, perhaps on the invitation or in an email, making it clear that inappropriate conduct won’t be tolerated.

“Make it very clear ahead of time that this is a time to celebrate each other and that means being respectful; mutual respect and keeping in mind this is a work event and we are all still co-workers and need to treat each other with the utmost respect,” Becker said.

Becker said it’s even a good idea to consider pulling aside employees who may potentially cause problems for a one-on-one chat ahead of time.

“Saying: ‘Hey, we want you there, and we think you’re great, but just remember, this is a time for everyone to have a good time,'” Becker said. “Without having to be too direct, I think a lot can be done one-on-one.”

Beyond unwanted flirtations or even sexual harassment, some businesses may be worried about employees who don’t know when to stop drinking. If that’s the case, Becker said, hold the party somewhere where alcohol is not the focus. You can even limit or monitor alcohol consumption.

Also, he said, don’t add stress to the already stressful holiday season. Some employees may feel pressure to attend a holiday event, thinking that their job security may be tied to their appearance at a party. Make it clear they don’t have to attend, and the invitation is just an offer for them to enjoy an event, but it doesn’t reflect on their employment if they don’t attend.

As a business owner, if you can support the added head count, consider encouraging employees to invite their spouses or significant others, or even adding some activities for kids so employees can bring their whole family.

“That helps us to get out of the work mind a little bit and get into our other roles,” he said. “Sometimes things are antagonistic at work, but if we have our significant other there, or our kids there, it keeps us in touch with the person that we are instead of just the worker that we are.”

Becker said, if you’re an employee going to the holiday party, make sure you have the right mindset. Consider going to the party with the goal of learning something new about your co-workers, or getting to know someone you hadn’t known before.

That kind of goal can keep you on track, and prevent you from waking up the next day wondering if you might have misbehaved.

“Keep in mind, this a time of added tension, and maybe a little anxiety. Try to not compensate for that by drinking too much. Sometimes when we’re a little uncomfortable, we tend to compensate with other things, and maybe alcohol is not the best choice.”

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Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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