'Merry Christmas, You're Fired!' Holiday Office Parties from Hell

Elephant (in the Room) Gift Exchange

Another awkward holiday office party tradition? Exchanging gifts. Draw a name and buy a present that you find "appropriate" for your coworker.

Suzy Parker, 26, of Los Angeles, who works in nonprofit fundraising, says the annual ritual at her office party is just plain awkward.

"Everyone watches as you open your gift and you have to hide your disappointment when you find out that the weird guy in the cube next door pulled your name in the exchange," she said.

One man in her office gave a woman co-worker a glow-in-the-dark Felix the Cat T-shirt.

"I know you like cats," he told her, though the woman was allergic to them.

Gag gifts should be avoided, according to Peter Post, a director of the Emily Post Institute and author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success."

"What's off limits is anything that smacks of being personal or suggestive," Post said. "Good gifts that don't have to fraught with the trouble."

Instead, give gifts like food baskets, plants or tickets to the movies.

"All [are] highly appreciated and none of them carry the baggage of a gift that is somehow embarrassing or insults a person in one way or another," he said.

Unexpected Announcements

But employees aren't the only people who need etiquette lessons; some times the bosses could use a little help as well.

During one New York-based magazine company's holiday festivities, the firm's president stood up to make an announcement, according to an editor who attended the event. The employees were expecting him to make a toast.

"Instead he gets up there and after thanking us for all the hard work we do, he tells us he's selling the [business] ... which leaves us with the question of what if it doesn't sell," she said. "We sort of all [knew] that we [were] going to lose our jobs."

Negative announcements at holiday parties are a big no-no, Post said.

"The party by its very nature is meant to be a team building exercise," he said. "But from a company's point of view ... throwing a party is giving [the employees] something with out asking anything in return. ... and then to dilute that with an announcement like that is absurd."

Positive company announcements, like a bonus, can be made at office social functions, but negative announcements should be saved for the business day, he said.

But not surprisingly, Post's no. 1 tip: watch the alcohol.

"There's more trouble that happens from drinking ... and then having to apologize for boorish behavior," he said. "What people forget is that the office party is still a business social event and it has to do with your business ... and it reflects on you when you're back in the office."

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