The office Christmas party: avoid these five career-ending mistakes


People enjoying Christmas party

Aaah, the joys of the work Christmas party. The warm white wine, the delightful conversation - and the danger of total humiliation.

It's astonishing how many of us manage to make it through the year without punching our colleagues or making a pass at our boss, only to blow it all at the company do. There's something about that combination of work and alcohol that seems to remove all our inhibitions.

The results can be disastrous. Last year, for example, business account manager Alvin Leeward was convicted of criminal damage after throwing a punch at a London bar's Christmas tree.

It's worth remembering that you can legitimately be fired for your behaviour at the company party, even if it takes place off the premises and out of work time. Four years ago, for example, two nursery nurses lost appeals against their sacking over a drunken fight in the street after their Christmas do. The legal position is that the event is tied closely enough to work for it to have an impact on office relations.

In theory, of course, the office party can be a wonderful opportunity for networking and advancing your career. But for those of us for whom that idea prompts only a hollow laugh, here are some tips for at least avoiding disaster. Steer clear of these career-ending mistakes, and at least you can console yourself with the knowledge that it really could have been worse.

Take it easy on the booze
Alcohol is behind virtually all Christmas party disasters. Often, people start drinking early and carry on until late, with nothing but a soggy canape or two to soak it all up. Try diluting your wine with sparkling water or alternating with soft drinks: and keep reminding yourself that if you can manage this one, you're probably pretty safe from all the rest.

Keep your libido in check
It's extraordinary how attractive your colleagues can become on this one night of the year - and there can be few office parties that don't involve at least one inappropriate kiss. But while waking up the next morning and remembering what you got up to with Kevin from accounts is bad enough, it can be a lot more serious when flirtation tips over into sexual harassment.

Earlier this year, an investigation was launched after allegations about a New York Parks Department Christmas party last year. Rather than the sedate affair that might be expected, it seems this involved stripping and pole dancing - with female employees forced to participate. The two supervisors involved have been transferred while the investigation's carried out: it looks as if it'll be weak tea and sandwiches in the park this year...

Remember the boss is still the boss
"I was disciplined just a few weeks into the job because of the way I behaved at the office Christmas party," says one publishing worker. "I'd had much too much to drink, and I just collared the boss and started telling him everything the department was doing wrong. I was being really opinionated, and I told him he was an idiot in front of other members of staff. He called me in to his office the next day; it was completely humiliating."

Mind your language
Just last week, Tracy Cordiner, a former worker for Virgin Media, found this out the hard way when her appeal against dismissal was thrown out. She'd been fired after allegedly calling one colleague a 'black bitch' and another a 'whore' at the office Christmas do. The court was told she'd always got on well with co-workers until then...

Leave with dignity, get home safely
Last Christmas, shockingly, a Danish 16-year-old lost both his legs after leaving the Christmas party at the butcher's where he worked and passing out on a railway line. The consequences of a drunken exit are rarely quite this severe - but embarrassment is very, very common.

"I'd had too much to drink and decided to leave, but I fell over on my way out," says one marketing executive. "I sprained my ankle, so I couldn't get up, and the boss stayed with me to hail a taxi. It took ages for one to come, and all the time I was talking complete gibberish to her. Horrible."

But if all else fails, it might be an idea to consider moving to New Zealand. Here, the production manager of a laundry was last week cleared of sexual harassment at the company Christmas party - despite having strapped a "graphic and prominent phallic symbol" to the Santa suit he was wearing at the time. It seems they're a bit more laid back down under.

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