How To Skirt The Danger Zones At Your End-Of-Year Party

Looking forward to letting your hair down at the annual office party? That’s understandable. You deserve a chance to unwind, relax and have fun with colleagues. But be warned: letting your hair down can degenerate into letting yourself down.

In worst-case scenarios the end-of-year party can become the end-of-career party. Festive gaffes can turn upward progression into regression while missteps by those already in leadership positions can compromise credibility and authority.

Performance appraisals apply to office parties, too. That’s not official, of course, but be aware that scrutiny is not restricted to formal HR processes. Subjective social assessments are made and can either be damning or career-enhancing.

Just like an annual performance review, an annual party is an opportunity to impress. For senior personnel, it’s a chance to set an example. For up-and-coming talent, it’s an indicator that you have what it takes to reach the next level.

You can still have fun, but the following danger zones are best avoided…

ALCOHOL: The ability to hold your drink is vital at corporate social occasions. Often this means just that … holding the glass and taking the occasional sip rather than drinking to excess. Take it easy and make sure a designated driver is on hand to take you home. An arrest for drunken driving can arrest the development of your career and could be a nail in your career coffin.

BEHAVIOUR: Be friendly and cordial. Greet everyone; those in lower staff grades as well as immediate colleagues and superiors. Being an executive snob is outdated and emotionally un-intelligent. A good supply of free eats may be on hand, but don’t gorge yourself. Don’t help yourself to an extra bottle (or two) to drink on the way home. This is tantamount to petty theft and a sign you can’t be trusted.

Creating a total mess (littering) at the party reflects badly not only on your personal standards, but is indicative of a messy attitude towards your office environment.

Don’t ‘get carried away’. Kicking off shoes or shedding clothes can best be left to royalty. Prince Harry can’t be sacked from the British royal family for what the newspapers called “a naked romp”, but corporates rarely have hereditary middle and senior management positions. Harry Windsor’s job is safe for life; yours might not be.

DRESS: Relaxed or flamboyant attire may be permissible but don’t go overboard. Women should avoid revealing tops and short skirts. A ‘flash’ from Madonna does no harm to her pop career, but what about yours?

FLIRTING: A little flirting may seem like harmless fun, but can get out of hand. A show of affection for a boss or a personal assistant can be misinterpreted. It will raise eyebrows if colleagues of the opposite sex leave together. Don’t put yourself in a position where your actions and motives can be misconstrued.

In the contemporary corporate world, we are all responsible for managing our ‘personal brand’. Be careful what brand attributes are associated with you and your reputation.

LANGUAGE: Watch your language. Formalities may have eased, but this does not mean risqué jokes are in order. Even though you may have been encouraged to use first names, don’t fall into the trap of being overly familiar.

A man might be tempted to show he is ‘one of the boys’ and a woman may want to show she is not a prude, but a sense of balance is required.

SOCIAL MEDIA: The paparazzi have been invited to your party. That’s not an official invitation, but these days every one of your colleagues comes to the office festivities equipped with a cellphone … which means they all carry cameras.

Unguarded moments can easily be captured. They seem like harmless fun at the time. Unfortunately, it is not so harmless when junior colleagues share the pictures with everyone at the office or the photos end up on Facebook.

Some prudent companies have quietly developed social media policies. They are mindful of the risk to their reputation if embarrassing photos of corporate events are published on line. Extra vigilance is needed at party season.

Individuals should also exercise care. Prospective employers check social media sites. In effect, pictures of your most embarrassing moments can go on your curriculum vitae, due to diligent reference checking pre-employment offer – the offer may never be made.

These early alerts are not meant to spoil the party. There is no need to be a killjoy. You can enjoy yourself and still enhance your company image.

Remember, there is always a morning after the night before. Make sure in the cold light of day you can look back and say ‘I had a good time and did my career some good at the same time’.

Auguste (Gusti) Coetzer is a founding director of and shareholder in Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.

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