When I worked in Japan, we had a very simple understanding (a standard practice in the country) with our colleagues: whatever was said and done after the office hours was not to be used against any one. Thus, when we went drinking after work, we could talk more freely and even criticize each other. This was supposed to build a more harmonious environment since there was no reason to hold a grudge against anyone – you could simply share your grievance over beer and sushi. The same practice allows colleagues to flirt with each other.
Unfortunately, we do not have such practices in America and we have to guard our behavior at all times. And despite enormous help out there, many executives make a fool of themselves during holiday parties. I have seen behavior that makes you wonder what these idiots were thinking.
WorldWIT CEO and workplace expert Liz Ryan offers the following advice for managing holiday workplace indiscretions.
- Apologize to the affected parties. That might be the boss you insulted, the workmate you flirted with, or the hapless guest whose coat you spilled your drink on (or worse). Contact this person and say, “I want to apologize deeply for the incident the other night at the Holiday Party [or wherever. I feel very badly about what happened.” That’s all. You don’t need to gush or try to make amends, unless you damaged or destroyed personal property, which you must compensate for.
- Religiously WATCH your step for the next long while, and depending on the heinousness of your crime, that while could range from two weeks to six months or more. If you got drunk and kissed your boss, it could be longer. Be cool, do your work, and be overly respectful and careful until you’re back in good standing. (Related: How to dress at an office holiday party)
- Keep yourself out of situations that might make a relapse likely. If you have to avoid workplace social events for awhile, do it. If people are going to start in again on “Remember when Charlie fell down on the dance floor at the Christmas party?” then it might be better if you’re not there.
- If your boss saw or likely heard about your gaffe, talk privately with him or her about it. If you really goofed up in public, you brought disfavor on your whole department and to some degree, made your boss look bad. On top of that, you made it harder for him or her to champion you to higher-ups who are aware of the bad thing that took place. So apologize to your boss as well, letting him or her know what you’re going to do by way of damage control, and reassure him or her that you are a professional who takes responsibility for your mistakes.
- Don’t dwell on the incident. Life goes on. You don’t have to keep apologizing to everyone you see or re-enacting the situation for the amusement of your colleagues. It’s over, and tomorrow is a new day.