The holiday office party: a time to unwind, let your hair down, and have a little off-the-clock fun with coworkers in a festive setting.

At least it used to be.

Now it’s a time to read all the horror stories about ruined reputations. Time to stress about saying the wrong thing to the wrong person or, God forbid, waking up with a raging hangover and a flood of messages wondering if you made it home OK and remember what you did last night.

Want to know what I say about all that?

I say forget all the fear-mongering dos and don’ts from politically correct Grinches and self-serving surveys by publicity hungry staffing firms. It’s called a party for a reason. So party. It won’t kill you and, if something you do ends up costing you your job, either the job wasn’t worth it or you’ve got issues that no blogger can fix.

Holiday office parties create a real sense of community and culture among coworkers who are usually too stressed and swamped to get to know each other. They help foster relationships and build employee morale. And they’re great ways for management to show their appreciation for a year of hard work and commitment.

So what’s the downside? In reality, not a whole lot.

I’ve been throwing and going to work-related parties – holiday and otherwise – for over 30 years at companies big and small. I’ve seen CEOs dance with nonexistent partners. I’ve heard VPs admit to doing things that are probably illegal in most states. I watched my admin pass out before the party even got started.

And none of that changed a thing, except maybe help us see each other as genuine individuals instead of bosses and coworkers.

As long as you’ve got a little common sense and follow these five rules, you’ll be fine. But if your version of common sense is to pound eight shots of tequila and tell your boss’s boss what you really think of her, you really should might want to get some help for that.

Rule 1: Show up. Don’t even think about not going. Whatever concerns you have will melt away right after you get there. Besides, you don’t want everyone to think you’re some kind of antisocial jerk with no team spirit or, even worse, that you think they’re all a bunch of losers you don’t want to associate with. And don’t coach your spouse on who’s important and all that. How neurotic and controlling can you get?

Rule 2: Have fun. That is sort of the point, you know. It’s a holiday celebration. Eat. Drink. Dance. Be merry. Sing karaoke. Whatever. Just remember one thing: you want to enjoy the entertainment, not be the entertainment.

Rule 3: Get to know people. Relax and let your guard down a little. Get to know the folks you work with day in and day out on a personal level. It’s better for building lasting relationships and fostering communication than any team-building exercise.

Rule 4: Schmooze a little. Schmoozing gets a bad rep because people don’t know what it really means. Business is all about relationships and your network is one of the your biggest assets. Schmoozing is how you build both. Just remember, the goal is to connect with people so be genuine and listen. And don’t talk work. Nobody wants to hear it.

Rule 5: Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Yes, it’s a party. Sure, you should let your hair down and have fun. But that doesn’t mean anything goes. You still have to wake up and face these people in the morning. Don’t talk about money, get into heated political or religious debates, gossip about office affairs or take the opportunity to start one.

Remember, it’s not a video game and you don’t get to hit delete when it’s over.

Look, everyone understands that alcohol’s involved, but the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more social situations you’re going to find yourself in. This is as good a time as any to understand that your behavior makes an impression on people, whether you intend for that to happen or not.

If you don’t act like an idiot, you probably won’t feel like one in the morning. But if you do, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just live and learn. Tomorrow’s another day.

A version of this originally appeared as a Critical Thinking column on

Image credit thelastminute flickr