Tips for Rocking This Year's Holiday Party Assuming There Is One

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Could missing your company’s holiday bash bust your career? Probably not, but many company managers and recruitment experts want you there anyway.

Sixty-six percent of senior finance managers responding to a new U.S. poll by staffing firm OfficeTeam actually disagree with the notion that it’s “an unwritten rule that employees should make an appearance at the holiday party.”

That leaves 34 percent of finance executives who indicated that showing up at your company’s or division’s party is expected, according to the survey, which was based on interviews with more than 850 senior managers in finance, manufacturing, retail, energy and other business sectors.

Of course, lavish holiday partying has been fading fast among U.S. firms, and at financial organizations in particular. Last year, banks which decided against holding full-scale holiday parties included Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, Citigroup and UBS.

One key trend these days at many big banks is for specific units like I-banking to hold their own individual holiday celebrations, with senior executives of that division footing the bill.

At Morgan Stanley, for instance, company-sponsored holiday parties were eliminated back in 2008 but individual divisions usually hold their own events which are paid for by senior employees, Morgan Stanley spokesperson Sandra Hernandez told eFinancialCareers.

The latest data from global executive search firm Amrop Battalia Winston shows that 74 percent of companies it polled across various businesses will sponsor holiday festivities this year, down from 79 percent in 2010, 81 percent in both 2009 and 2008, 85 percent in 2007 and 95 percent in 2006.

Amrop Battalia Winston Chairwoman Dale Winston tells eFinancialCareers that at a time when fewer of the nation's businesses will hold holiday parties than anytime in nearly a quarter of a century, financial services companies are clearly hosting fewer than most.

Given all the layoffs and decimated bonuses that have been common in banking, this is “not an environment that’s celebratory,” she says, adding that for banks to host large holiday galas just “isn’t the right messaging” today.

Pay your own way approach

On the other hand, there’s more than one way to organize an event, including the pay-our-own-way approach that’s become popular at Morgan Stanley as well as many other banks.

Financial professionals are still much more likely than their counterparts in other businesses to throw a holiday shindig offsite, OfficeTeam finds, but in-office luncheons and parties are being held at more than one in five of the financial firms surveyed.

Whatever the case, when it’s your employer or boss throwing the party, employees should “absolutely” make it a point to attend, says Winston.

Watch what you drink

She offers a single point of etiquette: “Watch what you drink. You’re still in a corporate environment.”

Here are a few additional tips for acing the holiday party:

- Decide who it is you simply must meet or say hello and don’t wait too long to do so.

- Make an effort to mingle with some folks outside your regular circle.

- Have shorter chats; you’ll meet more people.

- Limit shoptalk. Don't focus on business the whole time. Focus more on the personal.

This is more important than it might sound, says Toronto-based Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam’s global operation. “It’s the one day of the year when people can relax and enjoy each other’s company,” Hosking tells eFinancialCareers. This is your chance to get to know people better and hopefully enhance your work environment going forward, he observes.

Avoid discussing controversial subjects like politics

- Avoid discussing politics and other controversial topics, especially after sharing in a few toasts.

- Solidify the after-party connection by taking pictures on your phone so you can forward to your fellow partygoers later on.

- Show your appreciation to the host and others who worked on the event by thanking them in person or better yet—sending an e-mail afterward.

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