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ARCHIVED  December 1, 1997

Employees walk thin line at office Christmas parties

Offices parties are sort of like the governess in a Victorian British stately home: The poor governess is not quite good enough to be part of the family but isn˜t exactly a member of the serving staff.
The poor office party is not considered a rollicking social occasion but is supposed to be more entertaining than an ordinary business get-together.
The governess, welcome neither at the servants˜ or family dining table, dealt with her in-between classification by eating alone. She had it easy compared with the average office party attendee.
Does Ms. or Mr. Businessperson sit down at the office party dining table in a power suit and network with the vice president, or does he or she put on party clothes, drink a bottle of wine and hit on the new director of marketing?
Well, of course, the answer is somewhere in between. The problem is deciding where the middle ground is in office party behavior.
Debra Benton, president of Benton Management Resources Inc. in Fort Collins and author of "How to Think Like a CEO," offers some words of advice for anyone planning on attending a company party.
"In social/business gatherings like this, you can bet that you˜re being watched by your bosses, who will be noticing how you handle yourself, your coworkers, and even your spouse," she said.
Benton advises that employees play it safe, dress conservatively, and — key point here — don˜t drink too much.
"This event just might be the final test that propels you into that promotion or slides you off the list," she said.
Amy Kilbride, president of Boulder˜s Art of Celebration, said that in the last seven to eight years, she˜s seen an increased sensitivity to how people are supposed to behave at company parties.
Kilbride, who once discovered an executive vice president under the buffet table with one of his employees, says a heightened awareness of alcohol consumption, along with the knowledge that jobs are fragile in today˜s downsizing era, tends to make people more cautious at their office parties.
There˜s a lot less drinking at office parties these days, she says, and more emphasis on programs and entertainment that help people relax without alcohol.
Martha Zimmers, director of marketing at Boulder˜s CallConnect Communications, said her company did away with an open bar at its holiday party two years ago. Instead, employees get two drink tickets and if they want more, there˜s a cash bar.
Last year, Zimmers said, CallConnect downplayed the cocktail hour and instead brought in improvisational comedians and a live dance band.
CallConnect also paid for taxi rides home for employees who had too much to drink and reimbursed attendees for babysitters.
Despite these measures, Zimmers estimates that only about half of CallConnect˜s 300 employees attend the holiday party.
"I don˜t think people really like the idea of an office party," Zimmers admitted. "Some people feel like they have to come because it˜s politically correct."
But besides kissing up to the boss, there are other benefits to going to your office party, Zimmers and Kilbride believe. First of all, you get to meet people you might otherwise rarely get a chance to talk to. This can include the chief executive officer, who is pretty much captive during an office party.
"It˜s a great opportunity to shake hands with the powers that be, in a safe environment," Zimmers said.
But don˜t talk business when you meet the company president, Zimmers warned. It˜s a social occasion, so behave accordingly. Let the boss get to know you as a person.
Office parties also give employees˜ families a chance to be included and to meet the people you talk about all the time. In addition, Zimmers points out, there are always a couple of good stories from any office party that get repeated around the office and help with employee bonding.Top 10 tips for company partyHere are Debra Benton˜s Top 10 tips for how to get through holiday parties.1. Do plan to attend. The repercussions of missing it are worse than the temporary discomfort of being there. Remembers your boss probably doesn˜t want to be there any more than you do!
2. Limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage. You can drink all you want once you get home.
3. Introduce yourself to people you don˜t know. Even if this means a boss two or three levels above you.
4. Dress conservatively. This is not the time for cleavage.
5. Don˜t party hardy. This event should be viewed like every other business meeting, except for the fact that there are holiday decorations.
6. Prepare small talk in advance. The best way to talk with people is to ask them questions about their interests outside and inside the workplace.
7. Treat your significant other kindly. Bosses watch how you manage your home life to determine how you˜ manage work life.
8. Follow up. If you˜ve met someone new and promised some information, then get to it. If the host/hostess went out of their way, send a thank-you.
9. Make others comfortable. It will help you forget any uneasiness you have.
10. Smile. Act like you˜re having a good time. You just might end up having it!

Offices parties are sort of like the governess in a Victorian British stately home: The poor governess is not quite good enough to be part of the family but isn˜t exactly a member of the serving staff.
The poor office party is not considered a rollicking social occasion but is supposed to be more entertaining than an ordinary business get-together.
The governess, welcome neither at the servants˜ or family dining table, dealt with her in-between classification by eating alone. She had it easy compared with the average office party attendee.
Does Ms. or Mr. Businessperson sit down at the…

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