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From Tipsy To Regret: Your Tales From The Office Holiday Party

Dec 16, 2015
Originally published on December 16, 2015 3:14 pm

A few days ago, we offered up some tips for playing it cool at the office holiday party. And we asked for your stories.

We got about 8,400 responses to our informal survey. It turns out, about 1 in 4 of you revelers acknowledged getting too tipsy at an office soiree — and later regretting your behavior. Perhaps not surprisingly, 80 percent of you said you've seen co-workers embarrass themselves after overimbibing.

"I do think, sometimes, employees forget that the office rules apply at an office party," says Nigel Wilkinson, a partner in the firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips' Washington, D.C., office.

The events that unfold at office parties can lead to litigious outcomes, Wilkinson tells us. "The most typical [are] sexual harassment claims," he says, adding, "but the relaxed atmosphere can lead to racist jokes, or an employee can injure themselves or injure someone else. ... I've seen all of these."

Some of you told us you have, too: "All I'm going to say is that once you've had to be deposed under oath about what happened at the office party, you pretty much give up drinking at them. Or, in my case, even attending them," one respondent wrote.

Of course, these are extreme cases. Far more typical is the kind of behavior that's not dangerous but simply embarrassing.

"One of the things alcohol impairs is our ability to recognize our own impairment," says Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He has studied how alcohol influences negotiations and professional dealings.

When we dip our cup in the punch bowl one too many times, "we tend to think that [we're] more funny, more entertaining than we actually are," he says.

And many of the tales you shared illustrate this point.

"Ended up drunkenly karaoke-ing," wrote one survey taker.

"Fell into the band's loudspeaker during an emotional, yet crowd-pleasing version of 'Frosty the Snowman,' " said another.

But many of you also told us that you'd learned your lesson. And about 1 in 3 respondents said they view the office party as an opportunity to do some career-advancing networking.

"Stuck to one cocktail and had a responsible, grown-a** lady good time," wrote one survey taker. "Thanked myself when my boss sat down next to me!"

After all, there can be an upside to the festive atmosphere that comes with a little rum punch or spiked eggnog. As Schweitzer notes, drinking is "a social ritual. It can bond us together." And he says that feeling of bonding — of being part of a group — can open up new professional opportunities.

"The way we mix our social lives and our work is essential for how we advance in our work," Schweitzer says.

So as you blend work and play, Schweitzer says, the goal is to strike the right balance.

Or, as another survey taker told us, "I was given one invaluable piece of advice when I joined the 'corporate world': Don't be the next day's story."

Here's a sampling of some of your tales of drinking at the office party, edited for clarity and brevity. We didn't ask for names — I think we can all agree it's better that way:


Do Eat Beforehand

"One party 20+ years ago served a delicious white wine. To remain svelte in my fitted dress, I skipped the hors d'oeuvres and just visited the wine station. I did not realize until far too late that I had over-indulged. Thankfully, someone else drove, but we had to make several stops on the way home as I paid for my vanity and foolishness. So great was my embarrassment that I skipped the party the following year."


Too Close For Comfort

-- "I had three co-workers who lost their jobs due to behavior at an office holiday party, which they most likely wouldn't have engaged in if they hadn't been drinking. Let's just say they were discovered in a restroom, and they weren't resting."

-- "When my husband and I were still dating, one of his co-workers kept hitting on me the whole night at their Christmas party; it was cute at first, but the more he drank, the more advanced it got. ... I think he forgot it wasn't a frat party and we weren't in college anymore."


Letting A Little Too Loose

-- "It was open bar. I got so drunk that I smoked half a pack of my friend's cigarettes (I don't smoke). I also confessed to my best friend/co-worker that I was in love with him."


Even The Boss Has To Watch It

-- "My former boss got very drunk at a Christmas/my birthday party. She told my date that he was stupid. She used foul language in front of my mother. And said inappropriate things to my 15-year-old daughter. No, she didn't make it to work the next day."

-- "Use every excuse you can to get out of it! Unfortunately I'm the boss now, have to set an example. If there was any fun in them, now it's gone."


Ouch!

-- "At our company Christmas party last year, one of my co-workers had a little too much and face-planted on the dinner table. Ouch."

-- "Welp — one time I had a little too much and knocked over the Christmas tree. I'll never live that one down!"


On Boozing And Bonding

-- "Got into a bottle of 15-year-old single malt with some partners in the firm. All the camaraderie built up was squandered by not making it to the annual firm meeting in the morning."

-- "At an office party four years ago, a fellow co-worker brought eggnog that contained whiskey, Scotch, as well as bourbon. ... It was delicious and the booze was nigh-undetectable. Everyone became incredibly sloshed. ... As the night progressed, someone made a makeshift slip-and-slide in the warehouse that was quite fun until the IT guy of the office broke his collarbone going face first and 911 was called. We still talk about this office party to this day."


Don't Forget To Network

"I used the holiday party as an opportunity to connect with a hiring manager who had a position that interested me. I carried a glass of wine as a prop but drank water. This strategy must have worked in my favor, because I did receive an interview."


The Last Word

-- "My mantra now is to leave early. No one notices, and I get to leave early. Win-win!"

-- "I wish I would have read this last night."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

'Tis the season of the office holiday party. Love them or avoid them, but most workplaces do have office celebrations every year. And there are many, many stories of what can happen when you mix work with pleasure, especially if there's brandy in the eggnog and rum in the punch bowl. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on how not to blow it.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: If you're a fan of the hit show "The Office," you may remember one of the most viewed episodes ever - the Christmas party.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")

STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) If I can't throw a good party for my employees, then I am a terrible boss.

AUBREY: With 15 bottles of vodka, Steve Carell, the guy who played the boss character, sets the tone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")

CARELL: (As Michael Scott) I want people making out in closets (making noises). I want people hanging from the ceilings, lampshades on the head.

AUBREY: As the antics go from festive to fraught, there's Xeroxing of naked buttocks and, with vodka flowing, group shots.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")

CARELL: (As Michael Scott) One, two, three (making noises).

(LAUGHTER)

CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Kudos to Ryan, king of the party committee.

AUBREY: Now this is a spoof, an exaggeration. People don't really behave like this or drink like this, right? I put the question to an employment lawyer.

NIGEL WILKINSON: Well, you might be surprised.

AUBREY: Nigel Wilkinson is a partner with the firm Manaty, Phelps & Philips in Washington, D.C.

WILKINSON: I do think sometimes employees forget that the office rules apply at an office party.

AUBREY: People start drinking, inhibitions fade away and stuff can happen.

WILKINSON: I don't think it's an overstatement to say that office parties can lead to a litigious outcome.

AUBREY: Wilkinson says the most typical claim is sexual harassment.

WILKINSON: But the relaxed atmosphere can lead to racist jokes, or an employee can injure themselves or injure somebody else.

AUBREY: And you've seen all of these?

WILKINSON: I have seen all of these.

AUBREY: Now these are extreme cases. Oftentimes, the effect of alcohol on people's behavior is just simply embarrassing. Maurice Schweitzer is a professor at Wharton business school who studies how alcohol influences negotiations and professional dealings.

MAURICE SCHWEITZER: One of the things alcohol impairs is our ability to recognize our own impairment. So we tend to think that we might be more funny or more entertaining than we actually are.

AUBREY: And that's a problem, especially if you annoy your boss or colleagues. So what's the best strategy? Well, therapist Patt Denning says, if you have any tendency at all to overdo it, you can do a couple of things before you put on your party shoes.

PATT DENNING: Before you go in there, decide what kind of an impression do you want to make? Do you want to be the life of the party, really?

AUBREY: Denning councils on alcohol-related issues at the Center for Harm Reduction Therapy in the Bay Area. She says the next thing to do is this.

DENNING: Decide how many drinks will be optimal. If you have one glass of wine, are you tipsy, or does it take four martinis?

AUBREY: And Denning says, once you've determined how many drinks you'll allow yourself, stick with it and slow down.

DENNING: Make a pact with yourself or with somebody else that you will take a break before each drink.

AUBREY: And try to alternate between glasses of water and alcohol. After all, there is an upside to the festive atmosphere that comes with a little rum punch. Here's Wharton's Maurice Schweitzer again.

SCHWEITZER: It's a social ritual. It can bond us together.

AUBREY: And being part of the group, just fitting in, he says, can open up new professional opportunities.

SCHWEITZER: The way we mix our social lives and our work is essential for how we advance in our work.

AUBREY: So as you blend work and play, Schweitzer says the goal is to strike the right balance. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.