Having a safe office party

November 8, 2004
By: Vicki Bell

Editor's Note: Originally published on December 11, 2003.

It's that time of year when companies celebrate the holidays. Whether the celebration involves a lavish holiday party held off-site or a casual get-together in the office, both party organizers and attendees should follow safe practices, not only to ensure physical safety, but also career safety.

Taking Care of Business

Remember, it's a business event, and the people you report to and work with each day will be observing your behavior. The party also is a social event, and how you behave will be perceived as how you might behave at a business lunch, award ceremony, or other social business function.

We all have heard stories about people at office parties who had too much to drink and behaved inappropriately. One of my co-workers told the story of a man she worked with at her former place of business who became intoxicated at the company Christmas party and rode the ice sculpture reindeer. As it turned out, management had been watching him for some time, and he was on the radar already as a possible pink slip recipient. His office party behavior was the final straw that landed him in the unemployment line.

Just as inappropriate behavior can be your undoing, making a good impression can advance your career. Good social skills are executive requirements. The office party is a perfect opportunity to spend time with upper managers whom you may not deal with on a daily basis. It also is a good time to let your co-workers know how much you appreciate their support and contributions. Spreading good will can create a better, more productive working environment.


If alcohol is being served and you choose to indulge, limit your consumption. Alcohol is the greatest contributor to inappropriate, regrettable behavior. Some people prefer to nurse a single drink throughout the party. Others decide to abstain altogether and may choose tonic water with a twist of lemon or lime or a soda instead of alcohol.

Whatever you're drinking, resist allowing others to refill or top off your glass throughout the party. It's difficult to control your alcohol consumption when the glass is always full, and although you may believe that none of your co-workers would ever slip an unwanted substance in your drink, it's better to be safe than sorry. My co-worker who related the reindeer-riding story makes it a practice to carry a tonic and lemon drink throughout the evening, holding her free hand over the top of the glass to prevent having anything added to her drink.

Hold your beverage in your left hand so that when you shake hands with others, your hand isn't damp or cold.

Hosting a Safe Party

The North Carolina Department of Health and Department of Transportation offer the following guidelines for planning a holiday party:

  • Offer plenty of nutritious foods so guests will not drink on empty stomachs.
  • Avoid too many salty snacks, which tend to make people thirsty and drink more.
  • Offer a variety of nonalcoholic beverages for the designated driver and others who prefer not to drink alcohol.
  • If preparing an alcoholic punch, use a noncarbonated base like fruit juice. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream faster with a carbonated base.
  • Ask guests to appoint a designated driver before the evening begins. This person drinks only nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Arrange for discounted or complimentary rooms when a party is held at a hotel so employees won't drive home impaired.
  • Hire a shuttle or limousine service to provide transportation home for those who have been drinking. Promote the designated driver concept and these alternative forms of transportation in your invitations.
  • DO NOT push drinks.
  • If you provide an open bar, be sure the bartender has had server training to prevent overserving or serving guests under 21.
  • Hold a contest for employees to create nonalcoholic drink recipes. Serve the winners' drinks at the party.
  • Schedule activities or entertainment to keep the focus away from drinking.
  • Don't let guests mix their own drinks. Choosing a reliable bartender will help you keep track of the size and number of drinks that guests consume.
  • Never force a drink on a guest.
  • Close the bar 90 minutes before the party ends, and serve a dessert treat with coffee. However, hosts need to remember only time sobers someone who has been drinking. Coffee and other mythical concoctions will not have an effect.
  • Under no conditions let someone who's had too much to drink drive.

A Word or Two About Food Safety

The party food spread can lead to foodborne illness. Heb.com offers the following food safety tips:

  • Never leave perishable food, such as milk, cheese, and other dairy products; eggs; meat; poultry; and seafood at room temperature over two hours. Once fruits and vegetables are cut, it is also safest to limit their time at room temperature to a couple of hours.
  • Don't double-dip—dip, take a bite, then dip again! The best defense against double-dipping may be a good offense. Beat the double-dippers to the dip by putting enough dip on your plate that first time to enjoy with all your chips.
  • Wash your hands before handling food. Hand washing is considered the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.

Also, if a dish contains known allergens, such as peanuts, make sure it is labeled as such.

Partygoer Tips

Office parties are supposed to be enjoyable—a time to relax with co-workers. They also can be a venue to advance your career—or end it, depending on your behavior. Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the office party safely.

First of all, attend the party. Even if it's the last place you want to be, not showing up, without a valid reason, can be viewed negatively by management and co-workers.

Remember that the party is a business function and conduct yourself as you would in a business setting. Dress appropriately—nothing too suggestive. Keep your hands to yourself, except when shaking hands, and refrain from hugging people. Not everyone likes to be hugged.

Smile and be friendly, but don't flirt. Mingle; don't spend all of your time with your close friends. Keep the conversation upbeat; show appreciation for and interest in your co-workers. Be a good listener.

Thank the boss for having the party. Chat with her, but don't monopolize her time. Others want to talk with her also.

Have something to eat before drinking alcohol. Choose foods high in starch and protein, which will help slow alcohol absorption in the bloodstream. Stay away from salty foods that will increase your thirst.

Limit your alcohol consumption. Hang on to your glass, and don't let others refill or top off your drink. If you overindulge, don't drive.

If your party involves a gift exchange, give a gift in good taste.

Remember that your behavior will live on long after the party has ended. Make a good impression. Don't celebrate yourself out of a job.

Have a good time while behaving sensibly. Come Monday morning, you'll be glad you did.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209