Holiday Season 2011: Your Guide to Office Parties, Gift Giving and More

Published: Nov 24, 2011

By Angela Rose,

It’s that time of year again –office party season. If you’re employed, or hooked up with someone who is, chances are good you’ll be expected to attend at least one work-related holiday soiree. Whether attending your own company party or that of your spouse or significant other, remember this: it may look like a social gathering and feel like a social gathering, but it’s still technically business. Keep these tips in mind and you can still hold your head high come Monday.

You must attend, at all costs. It doesn’t matter if you don’t celebrate Christmas or you’d rather be eaten alive by ferrets than spend a minute of additional time with your coworkers. The office party is essentially a mandatory event, and you’ll show if you value your job. If you don’t make an appearance, you must have a very good excuse and be prepared to repeat it convincingly numerous times. Appendicitis might work. Death in the family might work. But you’ll need irrefutable evidence of either.

You need to stay for at least an hour. Arrive shortly after the party starts, while other guests are still fresh. Mingle with as many people as possible, and make sure you spend at least a few moments chatting up your boss. If the CEO or other senior executives are present, make an effort to speak to them as well. Even if they don’t remember your name after the party, they’ll remember your face.

Say no to tight, short, low-cut or revealing clothing. The office party is not an appropriate venue for strutting your stuff. Guys, this means you too. No one wants to see your chest hair. A company party is still a business function, so dress appropriately. If the party is right after work hours, your normal business attire should be adequate. If the invitation specifies dress, follow it. A common one this time of year is “Festive Attire.” This may mean cocktail party attire or reindeer sweaters, depending on the host. When in doubt, ask for clarification.

Leave the kids at home. Unless the invite states that family is welcome, get a sitter. If the party is held during office hours, it’s likely for employees only. Most businesses include spouses and significant others at after-hours events, but ask for clarification if the invitation is unclear.

Drink in moderation, or not at all. Remember this is still technically business. It only takes one tabletop dance or coat closet frolic to become fodder for office gossip. You could even lose your job. If you’re worried about looking like a party pooper, start with one gin and tonic or rum and coke, then switch to pure tonic or coke for the rest of the evening. No one else will know the difference.

Don’t forget the hostess gift. If the party is held at the home of a coworker or your boss, it’s polite to bring a host/hostess gift. Food and beverage items the host can enjoy later are generally good options (think wine, specialty beer, gourmet jam, fancy chocolates, etc.) If the party is held at the office or another venue, no gift is needed –unless you’re assigned a Secret Santa or you’re playing the White Elephant game.

Choose Secret Santa gifts wisely. If your office participates in a Secret Santa, don’t give gag gifts or items that may be considered insulting or inappropriate. Don’t re-gift your Secret Santa gift from last year either. Stay away from too personal items as well. Restaurant gift certificates, movie tickets and posh desk accessories are almost always safe options.

The same goes for a White Elephant. If you’re going to be playing the White Elephant game, keep the same tips in mind. Because anyone may end up with the gift, choose something non-gender specific. Unless the rules specify that the gifts should be funny, or things found around your house, don’t wrap up a gag item or anything used.

Stick to the budget. It’s not unusual for an office to set a budget for Secret Santa or White Elephant gifts. If there’s a budget, stick to it. Buying a gift significantly over budget can lead to just as many negative feelings as buying one under budget –and most people are pretty skilled at figuring out what something cost.

Exchange other gifts away from the office. If you’re close with some of your coworkers and want to exchange additional gifts, do so away from the office. You’ll avoid hurting feelings or alienating your other coworkers.

Buy a group gift for the boss. If you’re planning to buy your boss a gift, ask your co-workers if they’d like to chip in. You won’t look like a suck up and you’ll avoid the inevitable one-upping that will occur if everyone buys gifts on their own.

Thank everyone sincerely. Thank your boss for the lovely holiday party (even if you didn’t have fun). Thank the coworkers who helped to organize the event. Thank your Secret Santa (even if you’re just going to re-gift that Starbucks card to your little sister). After the holidays, follow up with a written thank you note for extra impact.

About the Author

Angela Rose researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for

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