Office Party Politics

How to survive your corporate holiday get-together.


"The one good thing about this jacked-up economy," a friend wryly noted, "is I think they're going to cancel the office holiday party.."

Talk about your silver linings!

It doesn't matter whether you're treated to a five-course dinner at a spiffy restaurant or Cheez Whiz on Ritz crackers—what happens at the office holiday party can affect your professional life well into the next year. To keep yourself out of the minefield that's packaged as holiday merriment, remember: The important word in the phrase "office holiday party" is office. In other words, it's still work, just in dressier clothes and with liquor.

If (thanks to a nonrefundable deposit that was made way back in the summer) yours is one of those offices that is still hosting a festive get-together to mark the season, here are some tips on how to manage the gathering:

Do I Have To Go?

It's work, remember? And if you work in a place where you're One of the Few (that's anything that represents the non-majority in your office), your absence will be duly noted. So mark your calendar and plan to be there. It's what, maybe four hours out of your life? So go, already; you'll probably enjoy it more than you think you will. The exception to the gotta-go rule: If the party is held someplace that employs discriminatory practices—the dining room in a club that excludes, blacks, women, Jews, etc. (yes, there still are some places like this), feel free to skip it and tell your boss why. They'll probably choose the venue more carefully next year. If they have a party next year.

What Do I Wear?

Dress festively, but not the same way you would for a night out on the town with your friends. If you've worked hard at the gym all year and want to show off your new form, do it in a dress that's pretty but not provocative. That black jersey wrap that shows off your Michelle Obama-like arms? Go for it! That thigh-high gold sheath with the butt cleavage that looks like you cruised Lil' Kim's closet? This ain't the time or the place.

Who Do I Bring?

If you're allowed to bring a guest, bring someone who will enjoy meeting your colleagues and who will be discreet enough to remember the gossip you've shared while connecting the dots mentally, rather than out loud. On the way home—not while shaking said person's hand—is the time for your guest to shout, "That was the guy who ran away with the head of ad sale's wife? You are kidding!" As for spouses, they have to go and behave. Preferably charmingly.