The 5 Rules of Holiday Office Etiquette

PSOW Staff - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In a 2015 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), only 65 percent of respondents said they planned to hold an end-of-the-year gathering for their employees, down from 72 percent in 2012. Does this mean that Ebenezer Scrooge is bringing back the humbug in 2016? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean the holiday party is the ghost of Christmas past quite yet. Although the traditional office celebration might not be as popular as it once was, more than likely the holidays will be celebrated or recognized one way or another at your office.


To help you make it through the office holiday season in good form, we offer the following office holiday etiquette tips to observe during the coming weeks to ensure you end the year with your spirits—and dignity—held high.

Gift Giving: The question of giving a gift to a fellow employee or boss can often be as simple as checking HR protocol. Some offices have a policy against such gifting to simply prevent perceived favoritism or to avoid offending people who don’t celebrate Christmas. However, if your office does allow gift giving, you might want to check with your supervisor to see if there are plans for a charitable group gifting, even a Secret Santa event planned for a holiday party. If your office does allow personal gifts, make sure to not give anything that is too intimate or personal or even comically offensive. Your best bet are items such as appropriately selected gift certificates or gift cards (for example, you don’t want to give a non-drinker a gift card to a wine shop). Other safe ideas include charitable giving in honor of the recipient or locally-sourced items like gift baskets and culinary items.

The Christmas Spirit(s): What happens at holiday office parties, stays at holiday office parties. Or at least that’s what many people wish the Monday after the big shindig when many an over-imbiber has to make the fluorescent lit walk of shame back in the office door. If your company does have a holiday party and there is alcohol involved, you may want to avoid becoming the cautionary tale of interoffice overindulgence. Beyond the obvious concerns of driving under the influence or other medical concerns, there are many social reasons to limit your intake and keep your wits about you. Remember, holiday parties are often where even the most professional person often lets his or her hair down, and having too many drinks can cause embarrassing or inappropriate actions that go against accepted rules of office behavior. So do yourself a favor, and limit your consumption to one or two drinks, only drink on a full stomach—or—take all risks out by not indulging at all. Finally, consider that many people are non-drinkers because of their health, diet, religion or addiction issues and a good host or fellow partier should always respect someone’s refusal of alcoholic beverages.

Seasonal Sensitivity: Now this can be a tricky one because everyone likes to have a good time and celebrate the holidays in ways that are personal and meaningful. However, keep in mind that offices are highly diverse places and that a shared breakroom might not be the best place for a manger scene or menorah. Of course, we are reminded of the classic “Festivus” episode of Seinfeld where a new holiday was created for those not celebrating traditional modes of Christmas. But just because your colleague doesn’t share your beliefs, that doesn’t mean that the season should not be festive. Seasonal flowers and greenery are great decorations (except for those with allergies!) and décor can be made with colorful ribbons and lights. When planning office or cubicle decorations, remember to be sensitive to those of other beliefs and customs. Decorations for holiday gatherings should also be made by a committee that represents people of all religious creeds. It may not be quite a “Festivus” but remember that the spirit of Christmas can be celebrated and shared in many ways.

Holiday Leave: This is another tricky one because people with families often feel their holiday time off supersedes their single counterparts. But remember, just because the new kid in accounting is unmarried, child free and fresh out of college, she most likely wants to spend time with her family as much as the parents and grandparents in the office. Ensure there are no hurt feelings by knowing what the time off policy is well in advance of the holidays. You may also want to see if there are flex time options or a co-worker who is willing to cover any extra time you need off for the holidays. By planning in advance, you can ensure that your holiday leave requests are met with plenty of good will by your coworkers.

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