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Holiday Workplace Etiquette

It’s December once again, and the holiday season is upon us. Amidst all the fun and festivity, be sure that your New Year’s resolution isn’t to make up for gaffes at the holiday party. In the season of office gift-giving, parties, and karaoke, some common sense and a few simple rules can make sure that you can both enjoy yourself and face your co-workers on Monday morning.

1.Know the company culture

Company culture is how the company does things and what expectations are. How does the company celebrate (or not) during the holiday season? What are the gift-giving policies? What level of formality is expected at social gatherings? Some companies will have written policies available, but often asking is your best bet to make sure you’re not the only one with your desk decorated with lights (or vice versa).

2.Be friendly and polite

This is also a time to realize that not everyone you work with will share the same ethnic or religious cultural background. They may celebrate different holidays than you (or none at all).  Take holiday greetings in the spirit in which they are offered. If someone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice, etc.), the correct answer is always “Thank you”—no matter what you personally may or may not celebrate.

3.Avoid alcohol

Nothing can damage your career prospects faster than over-indulging at the office holiday party. Getting tipsy (or worse) can cause you to say or do things that you will regret come morning, and if that behavior was in front of your boss, you may want to dust off your resume.

Boston Globe Magazine columnist, Robin Abrahams, has some excellent advice on how to keep your wits about you without seeming anti-social when everyone else is drinking—get a mixed drink as your first drink (as opposed to beer or wine). Then when you switch to plain soda or juice, no one but you and the bartender will be the wiser.

It goes without saying that if you are underage, don’t drink alcoholic beverages—even if they are offered to you. Trust me, your boss (and the law) knows how old you are even if other coworkers don’t.

4.Remember that it’s still work

Never forget that during the festivities you are still in a work environment. The rules may be somewhat relaxed, but they are still there. Did you neglect to RSVP for the company social (or say yes and then not show)? This could be seen as being generally unreliable. Did you get a little tipsy and share too much personal information to a co-worker? Your boss could decide you aren’t to be trusted with sensitive information. While holiday parties are not the time to pitch your new big idea or to work out details of a project, they are still business.

"Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential."
-Will Cuppy 

A Workplace Guide to Harmonious Holiday (

Holiday Rules of Engagement (BBC)

Business Etiquette: Surviving the Holiday Office Party (Huffington Post)

Office Holiday Party Etiquette ( 

About the author

Laura Little

Laura Little previously worked at the ECS front desk.