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How to get through a holiday party at work without embarrassing yourself


It's holiday time, and for a lot of people, that means the work holiday party is back. But many of us haven't gone to one for years because of the pandemic or budgetary restrictions or both. So we figured now was a good time to remind people of the etiquette so you can get through it and feel no shame about showing your face on Monday.

Here to walk us through some of those do's and don'ts is Elaine Swann. She is the founder of The Swann School of Protocol, and she's often called upon by businesses and schools and other institutions for her etiquette guidance. And she's with us now. Good morning. Thank you for joining us.

ELAINE SWANN: Good morning. I'm glad to be here today.

MARTIN: So why does this matter? I mean, thinking about how to present yourself at an office party is not just about being fancy, right?

SWANN: That's true. Presenting yourself at an office party has so much to do with the fact that your social skills, your ability to appear as though you're part of the team, and the opportunity to network with folks that you normally would not have is important.

MARTIN: How common is it for office parties to get people in trouble?

SWANN: It's pretty common, and the reason why is because there's alcohol involved, No. 1. No. 2, it tends to be after hours or outside of the normal work environment. And so people, for some reason, they have a shift in their mind, and they start to feel a little more loose. And they'll see one person maybe take a step and do something outside of the norm, and so then another person does that, and the next thing you know, you've got almost chaos.

MARTIN: Can there really be consequences - 'cause people might think, oh, well, it's one night; what's the big deal?

SWANN: My recommendation is to really approach this and look at it as another stage or level of a job interview. You're being watched. And so let's say, for example, you are just acting a fool and carrying on and so forth. The consequence could be not getting assigned a really big account or even moving up in the company.

MARTIN: You know, people listening to this might think, well, the safer choice, Elaine, is just not to go.

SWANN: (Laughter).

MARTIN: What do you say to that?

SWANN: You must go to the office party. This is your opportunity to have your presence known, to connect with folks. People think, this is not something I want to go to. It's social. It's optional. That's one of the biggest mistakes that people can make outside of standing on the table with a lamp on their head.


MARTIN: Well, why do you say that?

SWANN: You think, well, you know, there's going to be so many people there, no one will notice that I'm not there. But that's who gets noticed. It's the people who are not there. And making your presence known, even if just for a short while, is important so that as you move on into the new year, folks will recognize, OK, they participated.

MARTIN: So don't drink too much. Do show up. Final piece - what to talk about.

SWANN: Yes, yes. Do not go to the office party asking for a promotion. Don't go there complaining about things as far as the business is concerned. This is your opportunity for people to connect with you and see that you are likable. Think about the folks who are at the party, if someone, you know, took a vacation earlier in the year. Or if you do talk about work, be prepared to, let's say, for example, maybe compliment someone on an achievement or a milestone that they made during the year. Listen to NPR and see what's going on in the world, and be prepared to have conversations that don't always have to do with the job itself but let people know that you are likable and approachable at the office party.

MARTIN: That is Elaine Swann. She is the founder of The Swann School of Protocol. Thanks so much for talking with us.

SWANN: You're welcome. It was my pleasure.


THE JACKSON 5: (Singing) Santa Claus is coming to town. Santa Claus is coming to town. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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