Holiday Party Damage Control

Like most workers, I once had a boss who drank a few too many cups of eggnog at the company holiday party and crossed almost every line in the book.

His slurred speech, lack of volume control and over-the-top displays of affection were bad enough. But they didn't hold a candle to the impromptu performance he gave of "What's the Buzz" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" -- complete with choreography -- just before passing out.

Mortified on Monday morning, my boss came to work dressed like Clark Kent, from chunky black glasses and newscaster hair to drab suit and tie. Because jeans and an indie rock T-shirt were standard dress at the small, media company where he worked, his hasty makeover quickly became as hot a topic around the water cooler as his holiday party train wreck.

Which raises the question: Will the holidays bite you, too, in the rear this year?

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According to a survey released in November by online payroll service SurePayroll, 60 percent of small businesses plan to throw their employees a holiday bash this year, recession be damned. With employers more layoff-happy than ever, the last thing you want to do at a holiday party is give the powers that be reason to question your judgment.

Obviously, the best way to avoid being the office party casualty is to not drink like a fish. But considering that rehab facility Caron Treatment Centers recently reported that 64 percent of office party attendees have seen a co-worker get sloppy drunk, there's a decent chance many of us will throw caution to the wind and join the ranks of my former boss.

So let's assume you do get so sauced at your office party that you wind up dancing on the bar, groping someone you shouldn't and/or reenacting your favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. How can you save your reputation -- and your job -- come Monday morning?

Face the Gaffe Head-On

First and foremost, don't quit your job. Or dodge your co-workers when you see them in the hallway. And don't create some silly diversion like my boss, who resorted to a disguise instead of owning up to his bad behavior.

Failing to acknowledge your mistake will baffle your colleagues as much if not more than any transgressions you may have made at the party.

A.J. Probst, executive director of an educational consortium in Mexico, Mo., can attest to that.

Back when he worked in radio, he attended a holiday party at his boss' posh home that got way out of hand (a painting over the sofa accidentally caught fire, the boss passed out and the last guests standing wound up in the indoor hot tub).

"Around 2 a.m., we heard, 'Hey guys, what's up?'" Probst said. "In walks the boss, butt naked, drinking champagne straight from the bottle and smoking one of those colored Nat Sherman cigarettes. The topper was his hair was matted with pink puke."

The next business day, the big cheese held a staff meeting with the partygoers.

"He doesn't mention the scorched painting," Probst said. "He doesn't mention his solo parade. He only thanks everyone for coming but says his wife is a little disappointed that someone spilled punch on one of her rugs and didn't have the common courtesy to daub it up before the stain set in. He dismissed the meeting and it was all we could do to retain control until we were out of earshot."

Not exactly the reaction a manager hopes to inspire among his or her staff.

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