Top 10 Career Killers at Office Holiday Parties


There’s nothing like the office holiday party to bond with your coworkers, get access to upper management, and practice everything you’ve learned about networking. The problem is that office parties usually involve alcohol, and when alcohol is involved, disaster lurks in the shadows.

According to one study of over 1,000 Americans, around 40% of them have witnessed embarrassing behavior at an office party or done something embarrassing themselves, and nearly 1 in 4 have actually been reprimanded for their behavior. And yes, if you swing from the chandelier yelling the names of Santa’s reindeer, you could very well be asked to pack up your desk.

As you prepare for your own office party, remember that alcohol is the underlying cause of most inappropriate behavior. Stay sober and smart because most workplaces can legally fire you for inappropriate behavior and, in the current market, few of us can afford to lose a job. Meanwhile, here are the top 10 most egregious office party behaviors:

10.  Exposing others

The first rule of the office party is that you don’t Facebook tag your coworkers at the office party. It’s bad enough to wake up the next morning and realize you actually did the Electric Slide on the bar, but to have the photographic (or worse, video!) proof show up online is unthinkable. Don’t be the person who does that to other people—it’ll kill your karma and possibly your job.

9.    Dressing inappropriately

It’s a party, sure, but it’s also a professional event, which means you should be covered. Miniskirts, cleavage, cutouts, and sheer fabrics without appropriate underpinnings are verboten. At the same time, be respectful by at the very least showing up in business casual. Wearing distressed jeans and a vintage Van Halen concert tee is probably inappropriate.

8.    Flirting

The party atmosphere, combined with a few glasses of champagne might make it seem like flirting is a good idea, but the office party is not the place or time to see how far you can get with cute Emily from accounting. Though you aren’t at work, sexual harassment isn’t a phrase you want to be smacked with by HR the next day. Of course flirting with your coworker’s spouse or date is even worse, and if you take it a step farther and actually put your hand on someone, you might as well start working on your resumé.

7.    Talking smack about coworkers

Gossip is one of the primary human drives, coming right after sleep, eating, and sex, but the office party is a really bad place to engage in it. In a party situation, voices get loud, people are moving around, and the lighting is usually dim. And you really don’t want to be the person yelling, “BOB’S WIFE IS HUGE!” right when the music cuts off for the raffle drawing.

6.    Dancing too much

It’s a party, there’s a dance floor, and there’s a DJ, so obviously you’re meant to dance, right? Yes and no. Dancing is fine, but like drinking, it should be done with moderation in front of coworkers. It’s very easy to get carried away on a dance floor. There’s always that one guy at every holiday party who is breakdancing or dirty dancing or takes off his shirt and whirls it over his head to “Whoop, There It Is.” Don’t be that guy.

5.    Telling dirty jokes

Yes, people will be loosened up and engaging in behavior and talk that is much more friendly and casual than usual, and you might think an off-color joke will be appreciated. It probably won’t. If you can’t tell the joke to your 8-year-old niece, don’t tell it at the office party.

4.     Confessing

Confessing is closely linked to drinking, and one of the most common behaviors that seems like a really good idea after 3 gin and tonics. Whether you’re jokingly confessing to fudging your TPS reports to your boss, or telling your cube-farm neighbor that it’s you who stole her lunch that time, confessing can ruin your reputation fast.

3.     Being the last to leave

Every party has a guy who just won’t go home. Unless you’re the highest-ranking person at your office party, it shouldn’t be you.

2.     Hooking up

We don’t know why hooking up with coworkers seems like a good idea to so many people at office parties, but it’s one of the most commonly reported ways people get in trouble. It’s bad enough to sleep with a coworker after the office party, but a surprising number of people go ahead and grope each other in a dark corner or stairwell at the party. Don’t do it—you’ll never live it down and you very well may be accused of sexual harassment or fired.

1.        Confrontation

Blood alcohol and temper are two things that rise simultaneously for many people. And in the workplace, there can be underlying resentments between coworkers. Confronting someone after you’ve got a couple under your belt at the holiday party is career suicide. It’s not the time to tell the person two cubicles down that her loud phone conversations with her daughter make you want to smash her phone with a stapler, nor is it the time to ask your boss why he took credit for your idea. If you have an issue, take it up with HR during working hours.