Survive a Christmas party disaster

Christmas is upon us and we all know what that means – the office Christmas party. For many, the office party is a time to let your hair down but what do you do if you end up embarrassing yourself?

Having a few too many can bring out the exhibitionist in employees, turning the shy mouse into a karaoke queen or desktop strippergram, or even worse, giving them false courage to get stuck into their boss or any colleague they have an issue with.

If you find yourself in this situation you need to quickly get into damage control.

Apologise to the boss if you make a fool of yourself, says Patsy Rowe.

The best thing you can do if you've embarrassed yourself is to apologise as soon as possible after the event, says Patsy Rowe, author of Business Etiquette: achieving a competitive edge in business.

"You should definitely apologise to your boss the next day,” she says. “No matter what you did, whether it was getting your gear off or hitting on his wife, you need to say sorry as soon as possible."

Rowe says if you insulted the boss's wife (or husband), you should send him or her a note or card – not an email – saying you were out of line.

"An email doesn't have the same degree of 'sorriness'," she says. "And you want to do it soon, otherwise there is the potential for them to get 'steamed up' over what you said. The key is that you must not ignore your behaviour and think people will just forget about it."

Whether you should say sorry to your colleagues depends on who has been offended by your behaviour. "But it is the boss who has spent the money on the function so you ultimately need to apologise to them," Rowe says. "As for your colleagues, if they like you they'll laugh your behaviour off and if they don't like you they'll love the fact you've embarrassed yourself."

Rowe says how people react after making fools of themselves differs; men usually get incredibly angry with themselves while women tend to feel humiliated and are full of recriminations.

"It's not great for career prospects, no matter what industry you're in," she says. "I've seen some incredible behaviour, including people getting up from a table who have wet themselves. Things like that are difficult to recover from. And it's worse these days as often drugs are thrown into the mix, so the behaviour can be more alarming."

But while you are responsible for your actions, employers should also take steps to ensure their staff are protected at this time of year.

The Australian Drug Foundation's head of workplace services, Phillip Collins, says office parties are notorious for overindulgence, which leads to embarrassing incidents, sexual harassment, violence or injury.

"We all have stories about work functions turning ugly when colleagues have too much to drink," Collins says. "Alcohol use contributes to 11 per cent of workplace accidents and 5 per cent of all Australian workplace deaths."

He adds while Australian research on workplace Christmas parties is limited, a US survey found 13 per cent of people have been to an office Christmas party where there was inappropriate behaviour and 43 per cent said there had been drunkenness and drug abuse.

But Collins says there are many simple things that can be incorporated into an office party, such as serving non-alcoholic drinks, making sure the bar staff are RSA (responsible serving of alcohol) trained and providing plenty of food.

"Plan a day that's not just focused on drinking," Collins says. "If you have an event that is really well organised with lots of entertainment and activities, your guests will naturally drink less and you are less likely to have your party turn into a health and safety nightmare."

And don't forget that the office party is a work function. Leave all your work grievances at the door. It is not a time to complain about your boss or your pay. Instead it's a time to get to know your colleagues better so you can work more effectively.

Rowe says people should remember the office party is an extension of the workplace and not a mate's 21st party. "It's paid for by the company that pays your wages and therefore is not an opportunity to really let your hair down,” she says. “It's sad that one night can have such a dramatic effect on your life when it could be a way to enhance your work life."

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