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Don't forget office party etiquette

Workplace holiday gatherings can be disastrous if not handled properly

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It seems like practically every workplace has an office-party-gone-bad story. A worker who has had one too many drinks. Or an intoxicated employee who reveals his or her true feelings about colleagues or the boss.

Who wants to be the subject of people's jokes the next day? But you could have fun while maintaining your professional dignity -- if you're prepared.

Even employers need to be mindful by making sure their workers behave appropriately and drinking does not get out of control, experts say.

Barbara Pachter, a New Jersey-based business etiquette consultant and author of New Rules@Work, says workers need to remember a simple rule: "In business social situations, business rules apply."

"People have lost jobs and have had their careers stalled because of holiday parties," adds Pachter, who often hears horror stories from workers.

Here is Pachter's primer for holiday success:

  • Make sure you attend. Your absence will be noticed, especially by your boss.

  • Prepare conversations ahead of time. Forget shop talk. Bring up other subjects, such as current events.

  • Stay sober. Workers need to set limits, and for most people, it's one drink. Pachter also offers this trick: Order a drink you don't like so you could sip it all night. A new survey of 110 businesses found that 94 percent of them plan to have holiday parties, and 86 percent will serve alcohol, according to Battalia Winston International, an executive search firm.

  • Mingle. Office holiday parties are a good opportunity to meet new people and network with top managers.

  • Pay attention to your body language. Colleagues and managers are going to know you don't want to be there if your arms are crossed, or you yawn or frown.

  • Dress appropriately. Basically nothing too revealing. It's a business party, after all.

  • Prepare your spouse. That means, coach him or her on what to wear and what to say. Pachter says your spouse's or date's behavior will reflect on you.

  • Don't forget your behavior always matters. Don't gossip or reveal too much personal information.

  • Lastly, say thank you to party organizers.

    Bring out the music, and let the parties begin.

    From the mailbag: Here's yet another story of what happens when office cliques go bad. Beverly, a reader from Parkville, says she recently resigned from a new job that she really loved because of pettiness, gossip and cliques.

    Cliques, she says, can be especially harmful for a new employee, who feels "isolated, rejected and sometimes never gets accepted into the 'high school' loop.

    "Bottom line, office cliques are unhealthy and a bad reflection on management, I reiterate, especially for the new person," Beverly says.

    Tell me your holiday party horror stories. Send your stories, tips and questions to Please include your first name and your city.

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