A holiday party survival guide for feds

Friday - 12/3/2010, 10:41am EST

Barry Downs, Metro Market Manager, The Creative Group

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

It's that time of year. Offices around the country are gearing up for their annual holiday parties.

While it can seem like the holiday party is less about having fun and more about avoiding potential pitfalls, avoiding those pitfalls isn't all that tough said Barry Downs, Metro Market Manager for The Creative Group.

The same rules apply, Downs told Federal News Radio, to both private and public sector company parties, "because, at the end of the day, your perception as a professional is built upon how you handle yourself in any particular situation."

Don't miss out on the parties, said Downs, because they represent social opportunities to build your network. Go into them with a positive perspective. He advises to "maintain a good level of professionalism and you should come out on the other end doing just fine."

Newer employees sometimes need to be told ahead of time that the parties are still a professional environment. You'll be around your peers and managers and senior members of the organization. As Downs put it, "It is still a job. It is still your career that you're managing even though you're in a more, maybe, relaxed environment."

Downs said there are a few "don'ts" to remember about the office party:

  • Don't be too social - Respect people's personal distance, and don't get romantically involved with anyone at the office; and
  • Don't talk too much about work - You have to have a good balance, said Downs. "This is also a time to say thank you or talk about how much you're enjoying your organization. It can either be a great push for someone's career or it can probably be, you know, something that winds up submarining or setting someone back."
  • For managers: Don't miss the chance to boost morale - Even in a tight economy, said Downs, "in some way, most companies should make some type of attempt to say thank you." Organize a pot luck if you have a very tight budget. And in an alcohol-free environment, as most offices are, it's cheaper.

Do Homework Ahead of the Party

Find out who might be attending so you're prepared. Practice! Be prepared to give a firm handshake and bow out gracefully if you find yourself tongue-tied. "If you're in that situation where you're kind of awestruck, maybe even sometimes recognizing that it's a pleasure to be able to meet someone like that." Stay positive, said Downs. "Say things like 'hopefully someday I hope to achieve some of the things that you've achieved.'"

As far as what to wear, Down said business events should be an extension of the office. If you wear a tie to work, maybe no tie is needed at the party, but wear a suit jacket and slacks. For women, said Downs, take the skirt, blouse, jacket approach. Even if the party is on the weekend, don't dress like you're going to a club. "If you keep it in the middle, you'll always be safe."

Keep your wits about you and use common sense. This was very clearly pointed out by Anchor Tom Temin when he suggested "don't compare tattoos with the boss's spouse."

For more, see Surviving an Awkward Situation at the Office Holiday Party tips from Robert Half and CareerBuilder.com.