Many moons ago, as a young HR consultant, I drank too much bubbly at the Christmas party and fell in to a fountain. While the scene caused plenty of mirth for my colleagues, it dented my reputation the following year being remembered as "that swimmer from HR".
The work Christmas do can be a minefield of alcohol-fuelled wit, drunken proposals, chronic boredom and stuffing yourself silly.
Read more: Tom O'Neil will be joining us for a live chat tomorrow, Thursday November 21 from 12pm. Join us on Life & Style with all your Christmas party questions and share some of your sheepish stories with us. Or email us your questions early here.
Here are some tips to help you survive the night with your dignity intact.
On the day:
• While Christmas parties might not be your thing, psychologist Shanel Winning, reckons you should make an effort to attend. "Non-attendance may imply that you aren't interested in spending any more time than you have to with your colleagues," says the expert from Winning Performance. "This is not a great message to send. Use the occasion to deepen your working relationships."
• Before the event remember to eat a big lunch so you don't have an empty stomach when you hit the venue and its bar.
• Make sure you dress appropriately. The Christmas party is not the time to try on that new sexy sequined number or push the boundaries of how many buttons you leave undone.
At the party:
• Just because the booze is free doesn't mean you have to try and drink the balance between what you are paid and what you feel you're worth. Alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water to help make the night more fun and last longer. Remember, this isn't a normal night out with your buddies.
• Chat to your senior colleagues early on in the evening when you're at your best. Discussing the finer points of salary negotiation when you're three sheets to the wind at 1am is never a good look.
• Take the time to develop relationships with people you don't work with on a daily basis. Winning says to try and "broaden your scope to include individuals outside of your immediate team. For example, that person from finance you only email when there is a problem - make it a priority to get to know them. You may be surprised by how they respond when you next approach them for help. We are all more likely to go out of our way for people we like; people who have authentically invested in their relationship with us."
• If you think you might have a tendency to go a bit crazy, buddy up with a trusted colleague and look out for each other. They should stop you from hitting on the girl from IT and shove you into a taxi if you're starting to look worse for wear.
Time to redeem yourself?
Too much wine, mistletoe and your boss can be a dangerous combination and should be swiftly side-stepped. However, if things do go awry (as they can), there are a number of things you must do to limit long-term career damage.
• Quickly face up to anything you did wrong and apologise to those affected. For minor indiscretions (such as falling into a fountain) this can be made into a self-depreciating comment, ensuring everyone knows that you know you weren't at your best.
• For more serious mishaps, you will need to deal promptly and professionally with the situation to ensure the disciplinary meeting with the HR department on the following Monday will be as positive as possible.
• Turn up on Monday. Many people with a guilty conscious will shy away from the first day back at work after the party, hoping no one mentions anything when they finally return. However, the longer you are away from the office, the more gossip there will be.
• Look to diffuse tricky situations early on. Joining in chat about what happened and creating an event out of it is only going to harm yourself and others. After you've apologised, keep quiet as much as possible. Where there is no smoke there is no fire.
• Don't join in gossip about others to deflect criticism of yourself. This will only make you look like a hypocrite and colleagues could turn on you when the other story has lost is steam.
Remember: The work Christmas Party is a time to eat, drink and be merry with your colleagues. But do it within reason. These are still your co-workers and you don't want to be the topic of conversation over the summer holidays as the drunkest person at the party. Final words of wisdom from Winning: "Credibility and respect are easy to lose, and much harder to regain once questioned".
* Tom O'Neil is the author of Selling Yourself to Employers, award winning speaker and MD of both Outplacement.co.nz and CV.CO.NZ.