Leadership and the Annual Holiday Party: 6 DOs and DON’Ts

The fun and anticipation of one part of this festive season can cause it to become, for some, one of the most stressful events of the year. No, I’m not talking about Christmas dinner at the in-laws. I’m talking about the annual office holiday party!

For a leader, the annual office holiday party can be a tricky event to navigate. Whether it’s making small talk with Barry from Finance about how much he loves spreadsheets or looking after increasingly tipsy Pam from Marketing, the holiday party can be a real minefield for leaders.

Well, fear not, modern managers! Here’s a handy list of DOs and DON’Ts to ensure this year’s party is a success. Or, if this year’s party has already passed in a blur of Jägerbomb-induced regret, pin this list on a bulletin board and begin preparing yourself for next year’s shindig.

DO: Show up!

It’s very important that you, the leader, attend the party—at least for a little while—no matter how much you might not want to. Your colleagues will expect it and appreciate it. It’s a great way of showing your team you’re invested in them not only professionally but also personally. Understandably, finding the time to attend an office party outside of business hours can be challenging for leaders who have families, but you should be able to do it if you do a little advance planning.

DON’T: Be the last person standing

For some of you avid party-going managers, this might be difficult—especially if you are one of the younger attendees. Even if it’s tempting to party until the break of day, when you are a leader it’s better for you to arrive early and leave early. The reasons for this are twofold: First, if alcohol is served, leaving early minimises the risk that you’ll over-imbibe. Second, it’s important to step away and allow your team to let their hair down in your absence (even if you do have the best moves to the Whip/Nae Nae). Of course, this is dependent on office culture and team relationships. Your team might be more than happy for you to shake your booty until the wee hours with them—but be wary of outstaying your welcome. As a leader, it’s never a bad idea to step back from partying at some point during the evening and gather the team to reflect for a few minutes on what you’ve all built together. Then say your goodbyes and either go home or continue your evening elsewhere, away from your colleagues. Preserving a little mystery can be a good thing.

DO: Behave like a leader—not a parent

Make sure you devote some time to contributing to a good party atmosphere: Show a sociable interest in your colleagues. Mingle. Have conversations about topics other than work. This is an excellent opportunity for you to build a friendly rapport with individuals on your team. Don’t forget to let yourself have a good time—but always keep in mind you are still a leader. If one of your colleagues has a few too many drinks and starts making a fool of themselves, do the responsible thing—call them a taxi and don’t talk about it on Monday. Be cautious not to cross the boundary between leader and parental figure. Remember, everyone is an adult. Don’t berate others for their alcohol intake or scold them for misbehaving.

DO: Know your limit

This should go without saying, but it takes some experience to drink responsibly when there is an open bar. If you decide to drink, be sure you don’t overdo it. Your team will be expecting you to remain in control. You work hard all year to gain the trust and respect of your team—don’t blow it by having one drink too many. A good tip is to be proactive: fill your stomach with a good meal before you go to the party.

DON’T: Discuss tricky topics

For some people, alcohol combined with the casual atmosphere of a company party can remove the filter between a person’s brain and the words that come out of their mouth. People may be inclined to come to you with a complicated work problem after they have had a couple of drinks. But if you find yourself discussing a difficult topic with either a team member or your own boss, be careful. When underlying issues flare up in a party environment, it’s easy to over-share—which could damage your reputation.

DO: Get to know your team and have a good time!

The holiday party is an excellent opportunity for you to get to know your people away from the office atmosphere and the pressures of work. It’s a chance for you to find out new things about your team members, and for them to see what your personality is like on the other side of your desk. Take this opportunity when people are more relaxed to find out about their hobbies and their families, and realise how terrible their jokes are. Also, let your team find out more about you and your life outside of work. A relaxed party environment is a great place to find out whether you have more in common than just working together. Perhaps you and a colleague both have children, or a love of pets, or enjoy the same music. These kinds of conversations deepen your relationship with your team. Sharing personal information is a good way to build trust, and remind your team that you may be their leader, but you are still human.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for leaders to ensure they can enjoy the annual holiday party and keep things professional at the same time? Do you have any success stories about great parties? Share them in the comments!

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