It’s the season to be jolly—but not stupid. It’s important to maintain your professional image at office festivities. Your boss (and a roomful of colleagues) will remember what you say and do. They may not fire you, but they may not respect you. Instead of being known for your hard work and achievements you’ll be referred to ‘the girl who danced on the tables’ or ‘the loser who threw up on the boss’ shoe.’
And even if you manage you stay sober, you may ruffle feathers. There’s a subtle etiquette that governs gift giving and office parties. Here are some tips.
1. Should I give a gift to the boss?
Gift-giving in the office can be full of political implications. Here’s what to consider: the position of the recipient, your relationship with the person, and the gift-giving culture in your office. Ask yourself, ‘Do I know this person well enough? Is this person comfortable receiving a gift from me? What gift is safe?’
The higher the recipient’s position, the more important to get a ‘neutral’ gift. It’s in poor taste to give humorous gifts like mugs that say ‘Slavedriver.’ Even sending a book (like ‘How to Build People Skills’) may be misconstrued as a message that, well, he doesn’t have any. When in doubt, give wine and cheese or deli products, a set of blank notecards, or coffee beans.
2. Should I give a gift to my co-workers?
Technically you are only ‘required’ to give gifts to people who are immediately important to your line of work, such as the members of your staff or the people who you deal with on a daily basis. You may want to give that helpful secretary a pretty journal, or if you’re on a budget, give homemade cookies or a group gift like a food platter that a department can share.
Never give gifts with sexual connotations (like lingerie) and avoid expensive gifts like jewelry, which can be considered a ‘bribe’ or lead to a sense of obligation to you.
3. Should I return a gift?
If you are the recipient of an inappropriate gift—it’s too expensive, too sexy or not suitable to the occasion or your relationship—you can and probably should return the gift. Some companies also have policies against receiving money gifts. If you feel like returning the gift would be offensive, donate it to a charity. Tell your superior of what you received and what you did with the money.
4. Are the ‘lines of authority’ suspended at Christmas parties?
An office party is still a business function. But how should you treat a superior? You can be friendly, even joke around, but it’s best to stick to neutral topics. Also observe how your office mates are behaving. Companies have different cultures, and it’s best to take your cue from what your co-workers are doing, and how your boss reacts to them.
Instead of joking around, give compliments. Grab the chance to go around, thanking people for the help you received from them during the year. Sincerely wish them a happy and prosperous new year. You’ll make a better impression than if you flirted or made rowdy jokes.
5. What should I wear to an office party?
Dress decently. You will attract the wrong kind of attention if you show too much skin. Leave your plunging necklines and too short skirts in your closet.