Categories: CareersPersonal Development

WARNING: The Holiday Party Can Kill Your Career

It is that time of year again.  The Holidays are upon us.  With the holidays, comes holiday office parties.  Companies like to have these events to celebrate this festive season with its employees.  These events are to be enjoyed, but you also should be on your best behavior.  I have witnessed holiday parties kill many careers.  The purpose of this post is to coach you on how to prepare for these seemingly harmless events and to avoid career-ending landmines.

An Interview

Treat your company holiday party like it is a job interview for a promotion and not a wedding.  It does not matter if you are a new employee or have been with the company for many years.  People are watching you.  HR is documenting poor behavior.

Do not treat this event like it is an evening out with your friends.  It is not happy hour.  It is a work event.  It is no different than your monthly staff meeting.

Prior to attending, find out who is going to be at the event.  Prepare in advance who you want to chat with.  It is the perfect opportunity to get on the radar of senior leadership.  Don’t mess it up.


Many holiday parties serve alcohol.  Do yourself a favor and do not drink.  If you must drink, limit yourself to one cocktail.  Even if there is an open bar, use caution.  This is not the place to demonstrate your tolerance for alcohol.  Even if your co-workers or boss is drinking, focus on yourself.

My suggestion is to Abstain from drinking for the evening.  This is about your career and future with the organization.  Alcohol is a social lubricant and you do not want to get too comfortable and look foolish in any way.  Your reputation is on the line.

The holiday party is only a few hours long.  You can manage to not drink that evening.  When the event is over, you are free to go to the bar with your friends and relax.


If there is dancing, participate if you like.  It is fine to slow dance with your guest.  It is also acceptable to have fun.  Just do not overdo it.  It is not wise to show off your dancing abilities and to draw attention to yourself.  If the option is between dancing or not dancing, it is better to be a wallflower and not be noticed.

I once worked with a woman who was on the fast-track to becoming an Office Director and supervise 120 employees.  She was smart and talented.  Clients and employees liked her.  Her advancement track ended when she showed up at the holiday party wearing an inappropriate outfit, drank too much, and made the CEO’s wife dance with her.

Corporate employees were there from many different states.  Many took photos and videos of her dancing.  She was acting like nobody was watching.  Unfortunately for her, everyone was watching.  As unflattering as it sounds, she was given the nickname “The Dancing Bear”.  Her advancement up the corporate ladder ended.  She was passed over twice for two promotions.  Her career advancement stalled and she left the organization.

Your Guest

If you bring a guest, be sure that they are on their best behavior.  Warn them that this is your career and that they are not allowed to drink alcohol.  If they do not agree, it is better to not bring them.  Their behavior is a reflection of you and your decision-making skills.

At my previous employer, my Director, and her husband showed up late and intoxicated to the corporate holiday party.  While we were in the serving line at the buffet, her husband was loud, using vulgar language, and criticizing the quality of food.  My Director was unaware, but the owner of the company was four positions behind them in the serving line.  That following Monday, she was called by the Regional Director and was severely reprimanded.  She was later punished by being transferred to a poor performing region with the goal of making that office profitable.  She was unable to do so, was put on performance review, and ultimately separated from the company.

Sexual Harassment

This is a serious issue.  Even if your holiday party is held at a hotel or convention hall, the same work rules apply.  If you are in a management position, be aware of the sexual harassment employment laws.   Study what constitutes quid pro quo and hostile workforce sexual harassment.  Do not touch your co-works or make any comments that might be offensive.  Think before you say or do anything.  This also applies to people who are not in management positions.  There is zero tolerance for this type of lewd behavior in the modern workplace.


At my current employer, we have decided to do away with the traditional holiday party that was normally held on a Saturday evening in early December.  We now have a 2-hour party at the Corporate Office on the Friday before Christmas.  The event is catered, but we do not serve alcohol anymore.  Some people complain, but it is better this way.

I strongly suggest that you attend the holiday party.  It is a good move for your career.  If you are not there, it will be noticed.

If you do attend, make the most of the event.  Enjoy the dinner.  Be cordial, work the room, and mingle with everyone.  Use it as an opportunity to show off that you have class.  It is the perfect event to display that you are a good representative of the organization.

Have you ever witnessed someone ruin their career at an office event?

If you have, please share your experience in the comment section.

thefinancialjourneyman :Deciding to be free: My Journey toward financial independence

View Comments (12)

  • I’ve yet to see anyone do so at my work but I expect one day I will. My place of business has a culture that involves making decisions over a beer. It dates back to their conception. But... all the land mines you mentioned still exist. Ie on the one hand drinking is expected and not having a beer will also make you stand out. On the other too much and you have the landline. I fully expect some day to see a few people fall on those land mines.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      You bring up an interesting point.

      Some industries are known for drinking.

      When I worked in Advertising, it was not uncommon for the owner of the company to bring cases of beer into the office for everyone on a Friday afternoon.

  • Luckily, I have only seen a bit of "sloppiness" at office parties, but it is something I am very aware of for myself. There is no use risking my career for a little "fun" or whatever... I'll steer clear of that risk!

    • Thanks for the comment Mrs. Rich.

      I agree with you.

      Why risk your career.

      It is not worth it.

  • Really good advice! And not just for holiday parties, but for any company event. I've seen my fair share of drunkenness, ill-mannered and ill-clad guests, and lewd behavior. Usually, the employee is embarrassed the next work day, but not always!

    I think more and more companies are doing away with the full-blown party and going to events similar to your company.

    • Great point Amy.

      There is a great amount of liability when a company provides alcohol to its employees.

      As time goes by, more and more companies will get away from these events.

  • This is great adivice. Two years ago, a friend of mine who worked at a different firm but in the same industry went to his company holiday party. Sadly, this was his last holiday party with any company. Something happened at the party (unknown) and he was let go the next week.

    His career has never recovered and he was never able to regain employment. Thankfully, he is resourceful and attempting to grow a business.

    • That is too bad about your friend.

      I hate to hear about situations like that.

      I hope that his business takes off and he does well.

  • So it is a no no to drink 10 cocktails at the holiday party? Good points on everything here thanks for sharing. Question why do you have a countdown clock to you FI? Do you adjust it based on earning more?

    • Thanks for the comment.

      The countdown is to our target retirement date.

      It is based on when a pension can be drawn, our current savings rate, and the projected return on our asset allocation.

      That is a good question. It is actually based on our current earnings. The projections are on the conservative side.