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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Forget Office Party Guidelines

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Best holiday office party etiquette questions to Didi Lorillard at Didi's Manners this week. Have we outgrown the Secret Santa? The greatest Secret Santa present? What to do about expectations when there is no year-end bonus and breaking up is even harder during the holidays.

 3 simple guidelines for office parties  

Q.  What are the guidelines for an office party? This year we've been told employees are not getting a year-end bonus because repairs have to be made to the building. However, we suspect that some people are secretly getting bonuses. To improve morale the company is hosting a holiday party with a buffet dinner and open-bar in an Italian restaurant, which is several steps up from our usual party.

However, most of us would rather have the cash than the party. In the past the office party was only for employees. Would it be bad etiquette to ask if we can bring our spouses, or partners, since this is a night out rather than a BYO -- consisting of a couple of glasses of warm plonk wine or beer and cold, greasy pigs-in-the-blanket held in the main conference room?  KW, Providence

A.  What you need to keep in mind is that before year-end bonuses there were only rowdy holiday office parties where it was sporting to sweet talk a secretary into a wet kiss while the 'male room boy' puked in the men's room.

Then office parties plus bonuses, which caused jealousies, became the norm. Now both are too much, everybody's pulling back and simplifying.

Since the wheels are already in place for the holiday office party, you don't want to mess with that. Nonetheless, there are three beneficial things you can do.
    •    Early next fall organize a couple of your coworkers to lobby for bonuses instead of a party for next December -- even if the bonuses aren't as hefty as in the past.
    •    In the meantime, you can definitely ask if the dinner invitation for this year is for you and your spouse/partner, because it is a night out away from your partner. Look at it this way, if the boss were inviting you for dinner at his house, your partner would be included in the invitation.
    •    Lastly, since you're not receiving a bonus this year, why not request a year-end performance review; if the review is good or better, ask for a raise.
3 simple office party guidelines everybody knows:
    •    Don't get drunk.
    •    Don't say embarrassing things to your boss's partner.
    •    Don't get caught kissing in the utilities closet.

How to deal with no bonus

Q.  We've been told there will be no end of the year bonuses. Since the Christmas gift I give to my two assistants, who both have young families, is a check to help them with their Christmas expenses, I am in a quandary as to what to do because I'm not getting a bonus either.

I don't know whether they are expecting a check from me, since they know about the cutbacks. They each deserve a bonus and I'm happy to give them each a check, but I would be setting up a precedent. What's your advice?  HG, Boston

A.  The sooner you tell your assistants that you won't be able to give them a check this year because of the cutbacks, the less likely they'll be angry at you. Waiting until the last minute will only spoil their feelings of joy if they've already bought too many gifts for their spouse and child.
    •    Ask your assistants what their favorite store is and say you'll be giving them both gift certificates from a store of their choice.
    •    Make the amount half of what you gave them in cash previously, but you needn't tell them that.
Next year, if the year-end bonus isn't reinstated, the gift certificate can be for half the amount as this year. Your assistants will understand that everybody is trying to carry on -- the best they can -- with Yuletide good cheer.  ~Didi

Best Secret Santa idea for 2015

Q.  Every year we employees are pushed into buying an under-twenty dollar gift for our Secret Santa present. My family does not celebrate nor support Christmas, and even though most of the people I work with know this, they still think I'm a bad sport when I say I don't want to participate. The secret santa presents are given out at the Christmas party, which I would rather not attend. How do I get out of this office ritual?  SG, Portland, OR

A. Before everyone has bought a Secret Santa present, suggest that they be creative and try something different, because by now everyone has received their 'Best Boss' coffee mug. How about the gift of reading?

For instance, suggest that you all shine a light on the 50-year-old nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental (ReadingIsFundamental.org), that has given millions of classic books away to children age eight or younger all over the world; where fifty ebooks, in English and Spanish, can currently be downloaded at RIF.org/50ebooks free of charge as of December 1, 2015.

Who can find fault with donating to an established worldwide charity whose goal is vital nourishment?

If your colleagues agree to give their twenty dollars to pay for ebook gifts for young children, that's something to be grateful for. In exchange, attend the office Christmas party and make a toast to everyone who contributed to Reading Is Fundamental.  ~Didi

Breaking up during the holidays

Q.  My girlfriend broke up with me and the holidays are here. We were suppose to visit both of our families to announce our engagement. I even bought her the ring she wanted. She was going to come to the Christmas party at my office and those who hadn't met her are eager to meet her. It's off. We're done and I don't know what to say. It makes me too emotional to have to answer questions about why we broke up. What do I say?  SH, Windsor, CT

A.  The simplest thing to say is this: We decided jointly that we weren't right for each other.

Leave it at that: you mutually agreed that you were not meant to get married. In breakups like yours it is a two-way street, you're both seeing the relationship going in different directions. That means you are in agreement that you are not headed in the same direction.

It is better to go through the holidays single, footloose and fancy-free, than dangling like a Christmas bulb that's too heavy for the tree.

The strings of your heart will slowly pull free as you go out and about, at first pretending to have a good time until you recognize the fact that you are free to have a great time.  ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches all matter of manners and etiquette at Didi'sManners. The best of the FAQs can be found here each week.


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