How office parties can make (or break) your career

It is easier to climb the career ladder in-house by making a good impression with managers and colleagues. These are the people who will vouch for you. With the holidays fast approaching, this is the time to start thinking of ways you can use Christmas and end-year parties to your advantage.

Brush shoulders with the bosses and increase your visibility. If you work in an organisation where you manage to catch a glimpse of the CEO and upper echelon once in a while, this is the best time to get to know them.

They will probably make an appearance to personally thank you and your colleagues for a profitable year, if it was that. As this is a relaxed setting – you are not reporting or trying to sell an idea - use the party to introduce yourself.

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Time to unwind. Any boss worth his salt knows you’re not machines and will use office parties as a way to revive team spirit. Therefore, after a long and stressful year, take a breather. Use this as an opportunity to unwind with colleagues and re-energise. 

Set a target. How many people do you want to have met by the end of the party? Set a target. The best way to go about this? Approach the host beforehand and ask about who’ll be attending the party – you don’t want to miss the chance to interact with different department heads in the organisation. Ensure that you arrive early (yes, it might be awkward to be the first to arrive) but great connections are made while people are still lucid. This way, your conversations will be memorable. In addition, make your boss one of your targets. They may not have been involved directly in the planning of the event, but they played a pivotal role in ensuring that the company stayed afloat so that you could have the party.

Raise your career graph and increase your chances of promotion. This may be a relaxed setting, but if you have any hidden talents, this is the time to let them shine, if you’re called upon. Be present: contribute to the conversations around you.  Socialise with your colleagues. Present yourself in a confident way and use this opportunity to develop interpersonal relationships.  

Step back from the cutthroat race.  If your line of work involves pitching ideas, and ensuring they are better than your colleagues’, office parties give you a chance to leave that behind for a few hours. The bigger picture is advancing your career, therefore, get to know workmates in other departments that you rarely interact with. They might offer insight into the inner workings of their departments… information that may be vital in future.

Don’t let the bubbly get to your head. Your aim is to leave an impression – a good one. Eat first, drink slowly and lightly. You don’t want to be slurring when you’re talking to your bosses and colleagues.

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Time to patch things up. Sometimes things may become heated up at the office, so this is the time to smooth things over. Developing emotional bonds and raising your likeability quotient with colleagues is essential for the well-being of your job  - when you need someone to hold down the forte when you’re on, say, sick leave, at least you know you have a few people who have your back.

Do not invite inappropriate guests. If allowed to bring a guest, ensure they are conversant with your office’s etiquette. While the party isn’t meant to be full of stiff banter, your bosses and colleagues are listening, evaluating and judging how you come across and what you say. So, enlighten your plus one on how to, if at all, approach issues such as race, religion and politics.  

You may actually like the party.  Office parties, even though it’s an unwritten rule, are informally compulsory. Think of them this way… you may find them awkward, and so do others in your office. Therefore, if they can show up and have a good time, so can you… and you might end up enjoying your time.

Don’t be the last man standing. Leave at a reasonable time. According to US motivational speaker and career coach Heather Monahan, “It’s great that you attended the party and networked and made a solid impression, now get the hell out of there. She adds that once you have seen a few people leave, it is time for you to make your excuse known and get out. Nothing good happens at the end of the night.

Follow up. Keep the conversation light during the party. Do not monopolise anyone’s time. However, if you made a great connection with someone, follow up with them after the holidays with an email. This is a connection that might mentor you in some way, thus, in the email let them know that you enjoyed the conversation during the party and invite them to coffee once the holidays are over. Cultivate the relationship.

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SIDE BAR

Five rules you must not break

1. Talking shop 'til they drop
Even though it’s a great opportunity for quality time with colleagues, an office party should be about mingling, not brainstorming. Be aware of people’s subtle cues if they’re looking to make a graceful exit from too much shop talk.

2. Bringing everyone down

An office party is not the place to unload your bah-humbug attitude, complain about injustice or wallow in woe. Keep a cheery disposition and offer upbeat discussion topics.

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3. Stirring up controversy
Steer clear of contentious issues involving politics or religion. Opt for lighter fare instead, like your favourite restaurants, good books, interesting travel destinations or entertainment news.

4. Drinking too much 
Don’t overindulge in alcoholic beverages at the open bar. That old adage is true: “Loose lips sink ships,” or in this case, careers. When your judgment is impaired, you’re more likely to do or say something that you’re sure to regret, but your boss is sure to remember.

5. Showing up starving
Eating a bite beforehand will help you focus your attention on those around you, rather than on the buffet table.  

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