Holiday Horror … at the Office Party

'Tis the season for holiday office parties, and the horror stories they breed.

BySheila Marikar
December 05, 2008, 6:11 AM

Dec. 5, 2008 — -- Lindsay Lohan can party so hard she has to go to rehab, twice, and she'll still score starring roles in movies.

Paris Hilton can flash her panties during an event and still every club in the country will come calling, asking her to cross their velvet ropes.

But noncelebrities cannot rage through the office holiday party like it's spring break at Daytona Beach, at least not without the promise of a head-splitting hangover compounded by the threat of being fired or hugely humiliated.

Though the failing economy caused many companies to cut back on celebrations this year, as always, office holiday party horror stories abound. asked to hear yours. D.D., an advertising executive from California, shared this tale from a former firm's fete:

"I worked for an advertising agency that threw very lavish parties. Abundant alcohol and limo rides home (as well as a ban on significant others) lead to many a hookup and interesting day after 'who kissed who' (and more) stories that would strike terror in any HR department."

"But my favorite story didn't happen in the back of a limo," she said. "Our holiday parties were also the stage for major announcements. Coveted VP promotions were allocated, 'state of the business' speeches were given and funny client stories [were] revealed."

"It was our VP of production's turn at the podium (complete with a microphone, as we were a 300-plus company). She had obviously been taking advantage of the copious amounts of alcohol -- and seemed to have taken ownership of a bottle of whiskey, which she waved to the crowd, and then territorial hugged to her chest. I don't remember what she was supposed to have announced, but I'm sure it wasn't what actually came out of her mouth in between slugs of whiskey, with a slur, 'F-- you all! Most of you have treated me like s-- this year. I don't even know why I'm still here. And to top it off, I've got a yeast infection.'"

"The first two sentences stunned us," D.D. said. "By the end of her tirade we were in hysterics, knowing she was going to have the toughest 'day after' story to live down for years to come."

D.D., who asked that her full name not be revealed, added that though the VP didn't turn up for work the morning after the Thursday night bash, she was back in the office Monday and remained at the firm for "quite a while."

"That wasn't grounds for dismissal in that company," D.D. said.

Day After the Office Party

The boss-gone-wild syndrome seems to be something of a tradition. Tracey Sims shared an out-of-control holiday party from her days working as the assistant manager of a suburban Michigan movie theater, in which her inebriated manager nearly fell off the theater's roof.

"There was a roof hatch where you could go out, where the marquee was," Sims said. "My boss and a few others wandered out there and then onto the roof of the video store next door, where they set off the alarm system. Then the cops came. I was 19 at the time and I was the one in charge because my boss was hammered and puking on people's shoes. I had to explain to the cops that we were having a holiday party and I made up a lie about how my boss was trying to fix the marquee."

Pushing the envelope to the point where the cops get called may be cool in college, but if you're still doing that years after suiting up and starting a 401(k), you might have a problem.

We called Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post and author of "How Do You Work This Life Thing?," to ask her advice on how to properly party at an office event. What's considered appropriate attire?

Post: You should look festive. Wear something that lets people know you're in a party mode. Don't just show up in a suit. Guys, if you are wearing a suit, maybe wear a festive tie. For women, I'd wear a cocktail dress but something toned down. Keep cleavage and legs at a minimum. What's the deal with drinking? How much is acceptable? How much is too much?

Post: I would be very careful. Honestly, think about yourself for a minute. Are you the kind of person who starts cracking a few jokes after a martini? Or do you get a little crazy? If I go to an office holiday party, I can have one drink. Two, depending on what I've eaten that day, might put me over the edge. It might make me say something I might not normally say. Know yourself first. If you don't know yourself, don't drink at all. That's always an option, it's a responsible option. This isn't hanging out with the frat boys when the leader of the frat house is egging you on. The consequences are a lot bigger. What if your boss is begging you to take shots?

Post: It's different when your boss is egging you on as opposed to your co-worker or your assistant. If my boss is doing it, I'll be more tempted. But I'm still going to weigh myself mentally -- how long ago did I have that one martini? That shot is going to hit you a lot faster than a mixed drink.

Survival Tips for the Holiday Party Once the drinking starts, flirting and hooking up are all but bound to follow. What are the rules when it comes to co-workers?

Post: You have to know if your company has a policy about interoffice romance. If they do, you have to respect that. If you know you get flirty when you have a drink in you, don't drink. Also, if you're prone to flirting, think about the other person. Maybe you have a flirty e-mail relationship with a guy in a different department, but maybe he doesn't want the rest of his department knowing you two flirt back and forth. What if a supervisor hits on you?

Post: Laugh it off and excuse yourself. There are other people around, it's not just you and the supervisor alone. Find some other place to get to. Say, "Oh, Jim you're crazy! I'm going to go get a drink." It's a positive response, but you're not committing. You're not really engaging with the person. What if you are that supervisor, and you end up hitting on every eligible employee in attendance? What do you do the next day?

Post: My first question is, do you even know you were doing it? For instance, if your superior came to you and said, "Listen, you were flirting with all the girls from accounting last night." I would get up and go to the girls from accounting and apologize, tell them that's not how you really see your relationship with them. Be honest and upfront for acting that way. The same goes for drinking too much. There's a good chance you might not even know you made others uncomfortable. Say you end up going home with a co-worker and everyone in the office sees you two leave. How do you handle the situation the next day?

Post: When you're there the next morning or before you discreetly leave in the middle of the night, you need to find out what the other person wants to say to people in the morning. Ask, "How are you going to answer if someone asks you about this?" Be on a united front. Get on the same page. And it's OK to tell your co workers, "I don't want to talk about that with you." [After retelling D.D.'s story] How would you have advised the VP?

Post: I don't even know how to respond to that. That is so far out of left field, it's like you have to give her etiquette reprieve. The fact that she even had the "cajones" to do it, oh my word. That whiskey bottle must've treated her well that night. That is like four stars, all the way across the board -- don't do this.

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