Perhaps best parodied on NBC’s The Office, the workplace holiday party each year requires a delicate balance between professional behavior and fun with your coworkers. (Though that is something the employees at Dunder Mifflin couldn’t quite master each year.)
This year, the importance of proper etiquette and respect surrounding office functions like these is more pronounced in light of the national reckoning that, among other measures, has held men accountable for their inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct toward their female colleagues.
While men are busy pondering if they can hug women anymore, etiquette experts told MONEY they have been bombarded with requests this year to offer guidance on how to host or act at the annual office holiday function. Companies detailed in the Wall Street Journal are grappling with how to prevent inappropriate behavior. That includes Vox Media, which, after ousting its editorial director earlier this year following allegations of sexual misconduct, chose to not have an open bar at its upcoming holiday party.
Despite the newfound interest in how to act at these shindigs, etiquette experts agreed on a number of tips to follow at office parties to keep it professional. They viewed these parties as an important part of belonging to a workplace, an opportunity to network, and have fun with your colleagues.
You can drink, but keep it light
Don’t be the drunk employee whose behavior will be the center of workplace gossip on Monday. Maralee McKee, an author and etiquette expert based in Orlando, said consuming just one drink per hour is a simple way to manage your intake. She also advices attendees to “keep the emphasis on office, not party.”
“Don’t be lured into thinking that you’re at a party with your friends,” said Dr. Patty Ann Tublin, a behavioral and relationship expert. “You might get a huge laugh if you’re the guy or lady standing on the bar with the lampshade on your head, but that can be career suicide the next day. People will view that as an absence of self control, whether that’s fair or not.”
Network with higher-ups and lesser-known colleagues
“It’s a good opportunity for you to mingle with people like the higher-ups and the people you don’t see everyday who can be influential in your life,” said Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert who wrote the e-book The Do’s and Don’ts of Holiday Parties. And after getting those conversations started, Whitmore added, it’s wise to send them a follow-up note on the next work day.
But for chatting with higher-ups, “don’t go up to them and start asking them for a raise or badmouthing anybody,” Tublin warned.
Don’t take any risks with your outfit
Keeping it appropriate — your apparel should depend on the venue and your typical office attire. “Even though this is a party, it’s a holiday and you’re having a good time, you can’t loose sight of the fact that office holiday parties are a work function,” Tublin said.
So that means don’t wear something you’d wear to a club — or something you’d wear to a football game, experts said. If your office function is a more low-key, workday event, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something special. McKee recommended bringing holiday-themed earnings or an ugly sweater to put on for the event during the day if you’re feeling in the spirit.
Thank the host — but don’t waste his or her time
Depending on your workplace, the host for these events is often the executives or CEO. As etiquette typically mandates for any kind of party, it’s vital to thank the host for putting on such a celebration, experts said.
So if you see the host have a moment of free time, approach him or her and thank them for organizing the event, experts said.
If you don’t think they know your name, introduce yourself and what department you’re in. “Then let it go,” McKee said. “If the boss carries on the conversation, then of course carry one. But you never want to monopolize a host’s time because they have to spread it among everyone.”
Though, if the event has more than 100 people at it, McKee said, you probably don’t need to pull aside the host and take his or her time away from the festivities.