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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Business Event or Party

Dear Sue: I enjoyed your column on office parties. I'm moved to write because it struck me how many of the stories involved embarrassments, which were caused or exacerbated by intoxicated or inebriated co-workers. 

Over the years, I've seen the use of alcohol become more and more of a staple at business parties, holiday and otherwise. Most of the time it ends up being a catalyst not only to people "letting their hair down" with associates, but also of more serious breaches of wise business boundaries.

Look at the stories in your column: in one, "fairly intoxicated" co-workers created tension between a co-worker and his boss; in another, a new employee got "quite intoxicated" and ended up in jail; in the third, an "inebriated woman" insulted her boss and threw wine in his face. In all of these, a few drinks at a party led to months and years of stories being told and retold in the office (and in the newspaper!) These incidents change the way people in a company look at each other -- and work together. 

- Not drinking this year

Sue Says: Over the years, I've heard story upon story of embarrassing, and often unbelievably shocking behavior of coworkers at the office holiday party. Too many people mistakenly assume that at a company party "anything goes", and view the office party as an opportunity to "let loose" and engage in unusual or unpredictable behavior, often at the expense of others. 

I think the biggest problem is the fact that this event is called a "party". If people would think of it as a business event rather than a party, it might be easier to understand the expected protocol. 

The holiday party is a business event. Of course you can and should enjoy yourself, but keep in mind that everything you do has long term consequences and the potential to further or hinder your career. 

Several years ago I created a list of holiday party "do's and taboos". I've made some changes (based on feedback from last years parties), and offer the following suggestions to keep in mind for the parties you attend this year:

  • Attend the party - failure to attend will be viewed negatively.
  • Think "business hours" not "party time".
  • Limit your alcohol consumption. Drink if you want, but don't get drunk. Alcohol is the biggest contributor to inappropriate and regrettable behavior.
  • Dress for the occasion (which is business), but when deciding what to wear, you are better off in something conservative. Wearing a skimpy, sexy something forces coworkers to get a glimpse of more than they care or need to see. 
  • Be the first to arrive, but not the last to leave.
  • Be generous with praise for others, but stingy with praise for yourself. Don't brown-nose or brag about your accomplishments.
  • Take an interest in others, but don't assume they aren't too interested in you. In other words, be a good listener, not a compulsive talker.
  • Be friendly, but don't be a flirt. 
  • Greet and speak to people outside of your core group of coworkers and friends.
  • Keep the conversation light; avoid off-color jokes and talking about people, politics or office gossip. 
  • Be a gracious host; if you bring someone with you, keep them by your side. 
  • Be an appreciative guest; greet your boss when you arrive and say thank you when you leave.
  • Smile often, be positive and have a good time.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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