Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to Survive Your Office’s Holiday Party with Your Dignity Intact, Your Job Still Secure and Your Fool Mouth Shut

Much like a recently orphaned nine-year-old who's left not only to look after his younger siblings but also the day-to-day operations of Exxon Mobil, the holiday season has far too much riding on it for one time period. Stores need it to survive. Families need it as one more chance to come together and make it finally work. And children need it because, well, if some poor kid in a manger could score both frankincense and myrrh the very least today's kid should expect is a Zhu Zhu Pet. So thank God for the office holiday party, that one event during this tense time of year when you can really let your hair down, drink on someone else's dime and maybe prove to your coworkers that you are not in fact a scary loner who's going to snap one day and kill them all.

Now I have attended more than my fair share of such festive gatherings—from opulent Bacchanalian soirees replete with full orchestras, multiple carving stations, make-your-own sundae bars, sushi chefs, animatronic ice sculptures, high-wire acts, personal massages and the vague sensation that the open bar is in lieu of any Christmas bonus, to smaller scale events consisting of a single Entenmanns’ Danish Coffee Ring and multiple admonishments to quickly get back to work—each indicative of how business has fared that year.

But no matter if your company goes all out this holiday season—or just goes out for a Taco Bell run—make certain to review and remember the following crucial office party guidelines. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to show your face in the office the following morning without having your coworkers say, “Well at least you’re not showing us your ass again like you did last night”?

1. For the love of God, do not hit the dance floor: With the exception of concerts, people usually dance for one of two reasons: because their significant other asked them to or because they wish not only to bust a move but also put a move on someone, often in the form of rhythmic thrusting. And since most office parties don’t allow you to bring a date and most offices frown on public displays of erection, there really is no reason for you to show your inability to follow even a simple bass line. In fact, all you’re likely to get for your efforts is a little sweaty and a lot of stares. So before you make your way to the dance floor with drink in hand and pride in absentia, think twice. After all, just because the gin is free doesn’t mean flailing like a drowning victim to the tune of “Hey Ya” in front of your entire department won’t come at a steep price.

2. Drink until you have a good buzz but before you have a great idea: Ever noticed how many “brilliant” ideas arise when you’re drinking with friends. Ideas such as, “Hey, hey, hey…shut up! I’m trying to…I’m trying to say something important, guys. Guys? Guys! Will you listen? I just had a great idea. A really great idea. What if we…get this…what if we all quit our jobs and open up an ice cream parlor that serves nothing but vanilla? We can call it ‘Whitey’s’!” And have you ever noticed how the very next morning you thank God no one had the presence of mind to draw up a contract or tell their supervisor to go to hell? In short, what may sound like a statement of pure genius after six vodka tonics will certainly seem less so after eight hours of sleep. So to ensure you don’t go into exhaustive detail with your CEO about your idea to telecommute through Ouija boards—complete with schematics hastily drawn on most of a cocktail napkin and some of the bar top—know your alcohol intake limit. You may not remember who you talked to the next day but there’s a good chance you wrote your name on your boss’ tie so he’d never forget.

3. Make sure you’re seen but not remembered: When attending an office party, it’s important that your supervisor, the vice-presidents and the chairman know you knew to show up. Make the rounds, thank the senior members for arranging the affair (then thank their assistants for actually putting it together), joke with a few coworkers, have a few drinks and appetizers and then get the hell out of there. After all, the point is to make your presence known, not your actions recalled. Better your department head ask, “Did you have fun last night?” than “Did you tie one on last night or what?!?” That’s because while people may have trouble placing names or recognizing faces, they can always point out the person who screamed over the DJ’s speakers “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!” And they will always, always talk about it. In other words, be the minor footnote of your company’s party, not an entire sad chapter in your company’s history.

4. Nibble for the night, don’t store for the winter: For many younger employees, the holiday office party may be the first time in ages they’ve had a meal that did not come with the instructions “For best results, cook until raman noodles are al dente.” Even the more established coworkers may see the spread and think, “They took 50 hours a week away from me, I’m taking the fucking lobster roll tray away from them!” But this is a professional affair and some social decorum must come into play. While you certainly should help yourself to the buffet table, don’t take so much food that people will wonder if you have family members waiting just outside the exit door or a tapeworm residing somewhere in your intestines. Don’t try to maintain a conversation with senior executives between bites of a chicken/smoked turkey/honey-glazed ham/lasagna/Chilean sea bass/chocolate truffles sandwich. And don’t walk around with two or more plates piled high with hors d’eurves unless you’re planning on making a run for an idling cab. Eat sensibly, maintain a reserved demeanor and never, ever say, “Give me four more just like that” when the cater-waiter cuts you a slice of raspberry cheesecake.

5. Should all else fail, seize the moment: Sometimes despite your best efforts, everything just goes to hell. You stop at one glass of wine, you avoid food with red sauce, you make eye contact with all department managers and still one verbal or physical slip can bring the whole evening crashing down around you. People stare wide-eyed, comments are muttered, supervisors shake their heads in disgust, all while you keep trying to make it known that what you actually said was, “Please pass the peanuts.” When this happens, you have no recourse but to forsake decorum, forfeit shame, forget you still have several boxes of personal belongings in your cubicle and just tear into everyone like a hobo into an unsuspecting dog. Name names. Highlight faults. Reveal secrets. Keep pointing fingers, keep badmouthing, keep uttering one slanderous remark after another until everyone either shares your pain or is calling for your immediate dismissal. You may not have a job to go back to, you may not even have a career to salvage but you will have the memory of that one great day you weren’t afraid to tell it like it is, to finally speak your mind to your so-called superiors and to run out the fire exit, sirens blaring, with dessert cart in tow.