Originally published December 15th, 2009
In an effort for some solid employee relations, many organizations will try and give back a little holiday cheer for all of the team players that make such an organization run smoothly over the previous twelve (12) months. Everyone gets together and toasts the previous year.
Surprisingly, they can be a lot of fun too.
They can also provide a very strategic research opportunity for you, in particular.
Annual holiday parties usually start taking place right around this time of year, starting somewhere mid-month in December and progressing into a few days before that more common Christian holiday…I just can’t remember the name of that holiday right now.
Along the way there may be Secret Santa campaigns (W00t!), White Elephant gift planning (meh), occasionally the distribution of end-of-year bonuses (probably not this year), holiday cheer, some catered finger-food (nosh!) and epic amounts of free hooch.
While all of the events are usually pretty fun and may take place during work hours or an evening, it is this last of the aforementioned items that young professionals should be most careful around.
You understand: The red-eye rotgut. The triple-tipple-toddy.
Yes, I know you all have had four (4) or more years of practice getting your swerve on with Mr. Hennessey, spent countless hours waxing philosophical with a bottle of Mezcale to consult; laughed like a pirate with a ship full of plunder while quaffing a stiff rum and cola.
We know this because we’ve done it. We also know how to turn this soiree into a very profitable strategic opportunity.
Without a doubt it’s always the new professionals who take advantage of the free ‘shine, and why not? You’ve certainly earned it. Right? Hells yeah! Now pour us a double!
Yes, it certainly can be a hoot to toss back a couple of stiff drinks with your colleagues from administration or the check-cutters in accounting (who knew that number nerds and comptrollers were that funny after all!?).
You might even get a chance to sidle up to the Executive VP and let him know what you think about that new technology account you helped to pitch and why you need a promotion and a three-person team of your own to hit all of the goals laid out for you.
Wait. Hold it. This is where the record scratches. *Scccrraaaaaatch*
If you have been with an organization for less than a couple of years, you really want to play the annual holiday party with a conservative starting wager. That is to say, do not, under any circumstances, dive into the liquor and start to talk shop with anyone who might be considered a supervisor. A peer, okay, but honestly you’ll certainly mess this up, sooner than later – hopefully you’ll learn from your transgression; or ye shall be doomed to repeat your mistake.
Here is the reality: You, yes YOU, the one who is reading this blog right now. You cannot hold your liquor as well as you think you can. Period. End of story.
If you are reading this blog you are likely to be under the age of 25. And not to take anything away from your age, but you are probably working with people right now who have been dipping into the sauce for twice as long as you have been alive.
With all due respect, some of them are probably full-blown alcoholics – high functioning or not. You cannot out-drink any of these people, impress them or maintain your composure. Sure, you’ll try; probably because I told you that you couldn’t and who am I to tell you anything?
I am, though, telling you this coming from neither a teetotaler nor an anonymous alcoholic. I’m telling you this from someone who has played on both sides of the office holiday party.
I’ve gone hard. I’ve tried to put my monthly pre-tax salary away in the form of liquid fire and tapas (Later, at home, I produced an ample amount of A-grade organic fertilizer for my Japanese Maple).
I’ve done shots and cigars with the CEO and imagined myself as his personal office jester. (Didn’t work out).
I’ve tried to go full Centurion with the management consultant. (And won, BTW).
I’ve also tried to talk financial shop with major decision-makers while putting down my ninth (9th) PBR (bad idea).
And after all of my accolades, in no circumstance have I have enjoyed a workplace advancement, promotion or recognition for my holiday imbibing skills.
I have, however, felt like an ass the next day and started my many contrite and penitent emails with a subject line beginning: “First let me apologize for my behavior at our holiday party…”
And what have I learned from all of this besides the obvious cautionary insight of: “Don’t make an ass of yourself?”
Have one (1) drink an hour, and supplement with a soda water and lime in a highball glass, with a straw.
- First, you want to have a good time and enjoy the spread. Find yourself a nice beer or a favorite drink. Don’t pound it, enjoy the beverage and make conversation with your peers. Hit the grub. Go for the seafood first, save room for the main dish and avoid carbs like Swine Flu.
- Second, go back and order (or pour yourself) a nice soda water in a highball glass with a lime and include a straw. The highball glass with a lime looks just like a delicious gin and tonic. Thus increasing the likelihood that you won’t draw attention to yourself or your “information master plan.” The straw helps by keeping the drink available for your mouth without dumping ice on all over your sober face, all the while cultivating credibility that your beverage is “adult” in orientation and reinforces that you are just a regular person. If there are paper umbrellas, put one of those in there too. A dash of grenadine and you are now looking very chic.
Work this drink-for-drink system all night long. One on, one off.
Now, as the evening wears on, you are likely one of the few people who have strategically remained sober during the whole evening. Why is this strategic? Because you have gone from office colleague into hardened NSA-level information-hunter
“Dude! It’s my first holiday party! I’m going to get wrecked!” You are saying out loud, at this very moment, to no one in particular within the computer lab. “Why the hell would I actually try to stay sober at the one free work-party of the year?”
The answer is simple and I’ve been doing it for years now.
Without a doubt, you will hear and learn things that you never thought possible at the workplace. You will gain insight otherwise unavailable to anyone in your position. And even better…you’ll remember what was said. You are no longer the Sham-Wow of Ethanol. You are now a sponge of inside information.
At the annual holiday parties, while remaining sober, I’ve heard from accountants how much longer the organization will function without a new client on board (not long).
I’ve heard about who is cheating on their spouse with which client (true story, several times over).
I’ve found out that the Executive VP is and has been at odds with the CEO & President and is thinking about leaving and taking the biggest client with them (he did, I got out early and the organization went under).
I’ve learned that I can tell a better joke, have a faster wit and make more people laugh when I’m not trashed (just like my typical day).
I’ve learned that performing karaoke sober, in a room full of people, is more satisfying when I can do it sober (I recommend anything by Neil Diamond).
And I’ve also learned that while free drinks and coworkers can be a lot of fun when tipping back the nog, I have come to realize that I don’t have total control of all of my cognitive faculties when I’ve poured it down (just ask my wife).
Let me I assure you, I am not a square (ask any colleague). I have a large group of close friends that I can cut loose with and you probably do too. That is what they are for!
I do know, however, I can get drunk with the best of them anytime I choose. But a while back I chose to utilize the holiday office party to my own advantage…to listen and learn.
I’m not going to admonish you to be just like me, but I do hope you’ll consider utilizing this holiday opportunity in a strategic format. Be the person who knows all the secrets that are guaranteed to be spilling out at 10:15P. I absolutely assure you it will happen.
Don’t be the person who can’t remember what they said at 8:04P because you poured yourself four-fingers of 20-year-old Glenmorangie from the boss-man’s personal stash.
And for the love of all those you know; please, please call a cab if you need it. Here are three Portland companies who can get you home safely (and hit Taco Bell on the way).
Have a merry holiday and see what you can learn.