Office party politics

A successful career isn't built in a day. But it can be destroyed in a single night at the office Christmas party.

As we careen toward the holiday season like a drunken Haley Joel Osment into the mailboxes of Los Angeles, our schedules fill with Christmas festivities, including the office party. This can be an ideal opportunity to forge friendships with colleagues outside the buttoned-down atmosphere of the workplace.

It's also a great time to dazzle your superiors with the latest dance step or your karaoke rendition of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On."

However, the office party also is a time when - if you aren't careful - you can send your career to a screeching halt worthy of Christian Slater. WorldWIT, an online community for professional women, recently issued a report on office party indiscretions. The top five are:

• drinking too much

• forgetting a colleague's name

• brown-nosing with upper management

• becoming romantically involved with a colleague

• getting caught gossiping

Hey, it isn't a party until you've gotten liquored up and canoodled in the coatroom with Stephanie from Accounts Receivable.

Such activities have repercussions. While it may be true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens at the office party stays in your personnel file. Sixty percent of WorldWIT members said their opinion of a coworker changed after witnessing office party blunders. Thirty percent said the grilled salmon was too cold.

Potential office party missteps are many. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed regret consuming excessive alcohol, and 6 percent admit to getting puking drunk. Nearly half say they regret forgetting a colleague's name. One out of five women surveyed became romantically involved with a colleague while at an office party.

In response to the survey results, WorldWIT CEO and workplace expert Liz Ryan offered sobering advice for managing holiday workplace indiscretions:

1) The first part of bouncing back from a workplace misstep is to apologize to the affected parties. That might be the workmate you flirted with, the hapless guest whose coat you spilled your drink on or the boss you insulted. (Hey, it's not your fault that his tie reminded you of Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.) You don't need to gush or try to make amends, unless you damaged personal property such as the Amazing Technicolor Necktie.

2) Religiously watch your step for a while - two weeks to six months or more, depending on the heinousness of the crime. If you got drunk and kissed your boss, it could be longer. Be cool, do your work, and be overly respectful and careful until you're back in good standing. Or until the boss leaves the company, whichever comes first.

3) Keep yourself out of situations that might make a relapse likely. If you have to avoid workplace social events for a while, do it. If people are going to start in again on "Remember when Charlie fell down on the dance floor at the Christmas party?" then it might be better if you're not there.

4) Also, if your bosses saw or likely heard about your gaffe, apologize to them. Reassure them that you are a professional who takes responsibility for your mistakes. Especially when those mistakes include multiple rounds of tequila shots.

5) Lastly, don't dwell on the incident. Life goes on. You don't have to keep apologizing to everyone you see or re-enacting the situation for the amusement of your colleagues.

Remember, no matter how badly you misbehave at the office Christmas party, things could be worse. You could be a mailbox in the headlights of Haley Joel Osment. And even though 60 percent of your colleagues will think differently of you because of your misbehavior, some will stand by your side and comfort you. I'm thinking here of Stephanie from Accounts Receivable.

Columnist Ben Bromley will be passing out "free drink" tickets at your office party in an effort to generate column fodder. Share tales of misbehavior by sending e-mail to bbromley@capitalnewspapers.com.

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