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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

Workplace Etiquette: 6 Tips For Work Get-Togethers & Social Events

Making a good impression by knowing basic manners or etiquette is essential in the professional world, and increasingly so in situations such as work get-togethers and social events. Whether it’s networking, attending a party, or having lunch with colleagues, there are some key tips to remember to ensure that you make the best impression possible.

According to Hubspot there are five types of etiquette in business:

  • Workplace/office

  • Meal/social/get-togethers

  • Communication

  • Professionalism

  • Meeting

In this article we will focus on work get together or social events.

Dining table basics

Before getting in-depth event etiquette, here is a quick refresher on basic tips when dining with others:

  • When you take a seat, place your napkin or serviette on your lap. Don't act surprised in more formal dining establishments if the serving staff do this for you.

  • Don't choose the most expensive items on the menu. It is safer to opt for dishes similar in price to those of other diners or take cues from the senior staff.

  • Order the same number of courses as your organiser or host to be safe. For example, if they skip the appetiser then you should also. Doing otherwise will hold up the rest of the table's main course while they wait for you.

  • Don't order a bottle of wine - leave this for the most senior person or the organiser. Instead, just order a moderately priced glass.

  • Wait until everyone has been served before beginning to eat. If there is an issue with an order, wait until you have been invited to start.

  • Allow all present to have an equal chance to talk. Ensure you give adequate attention to those on either side of you.

  • Chew with your mouth shut and don't speak with your mouth full.

  • Do not click your fingers at the wait staff to gain attention. Try and catch their eye and gesture with your hand.

  • After the meal is finished, fold your napkin and position it next to your plate. Put your utensils together (parallel) on the plate vertically to you to signal you have finished.

  • Don't hand the wait staff your plate unless they ask for it. They will also serve you from the left and take from your right.

  • Don't criticise your meal or environment. Find positives. Commenting negatively can make you seem ungrateful and embarrass the host/organiser.

Mandatory, optional & 'you really should show your face even if you don't want to' events

Despite the fact that going to the office party is not usually compulsory, it is still a good idea to attend when possible. Some people prefer to finish their work and not participate in any events, but a corporate function is an opportunity to interact with colleagues and leaders on a more personal level and can be beneficial for raising your profile with important people in your office.

Be mindful of how many times you say no. In many workplaces, there is an unwritten expectation that you will attend especially if you are in a management position or entertaining people external to the organisation such as clients or major stakeholders.

Saying no too often or with flimsy excuses will be noticed and even though it may not be explicitly addressed with you, it could be privately frowned upon. In a worst-case scenario, it can play a factor when considering your suitability for a promotion if you don't seem invested in the corporate culture and team building.

Workplace social event etiquette

It is important to know good office socialising etiquette because it can help you build strong relationships with colleagues and executives, improve communication and collaboration, and increase engagement. Additionally, good workplace etiquette can help you to enhance your reputation and give the impression of being invested into the organisation's culture. It is worth noting that culture and norms do differ depending on the organisation. Be observant and take social cues from senior staff. However, here are some failsafe universal etiquette tips.

1. Dress for the occasion

The invitation may specify the dress code for the occasion. However, this still leaves things open to different interpretations. 'Festive attire' may mean an ugly Christmas sweater to some or a sparkly mini cocktail dress to others.

Err on the side of caution and conservatism - particularly if your seniors or external people are attending. While shine, shimmer and sequins are all okay, avoid wearing anything too revealing. This is not the time or place for a cutting-edge, party outfit that shows a lot of flesh.

If in doubt, check in with your manager or HR for their general advice on what is expected or dress one notch above what you think is required.

2. Turn up on time

Corporate events like office parties usually have a specified start and finish time. We are all familiar with the idea of showing up fashionably late for events but for office parties, it is best to stick to the scheduled time - aim for within 15-20 minutes of the official start. It shows respect and it is also often the designated time to mingle.

The absolute last thing you want to do is arrive after everyone has been seated without a very good reason. You should also not leave early after a short stay, as this would also be seen as disrespectful and make it quite clear you only turned up for the least possible amount of time. Conversely don't be the last to leave either.

3. Mix & mingle

Don't just limit yourself to speaking with one individual or your group of colleagues that you already know quite well despite this being what you are most comfortable with. Try to be friendly and chat with as many attendees as you can. Doing this will give you the opportunity to meet a lot of new people, which might be beneficial no matter what your job is. You could come across someone who has the power to promote you in your organisation. Do not focus too much on your BFF from the office; if you get the chance to talk, have a quick chat and move on. Even if you do not like certain colleagues, be polite and greet them – not saying anything could be seen as a sign of disrespect and may be noted by others.

Be mindful of what conversational topics you choose. Socialising outside of the office can put us in a different setting than what we are used to. This can often result in uncomfortable pauses during a conversation. A common way to fill this gap is by discussing people you both know, such as other coworkers or work issues. Steer clear of this type of gossiping though as it may reach the person being spoken about, and it can give off a bad impression. Also, steer away from known controversial topics like politics and religion - a work event is not the place to get into a heated debate. Asking about movies, sports, restaurants, families etc. is a safe way to create conversations and get to know people better.

If you are introverted then this sort of socialising can be your worst nightmare. But try to move out of the corner and circulate - and most definitely put away your phone. You may be pleasantly surprised by those who sense your nervousness and make an effort to include you and put you at ease.

Lastly don't attempt to monopolise your manager's or other executives' time. Greet them, thank them for the event, take a few moments to make small talk then leave them to associate with other guests.

4. Behave yourself

At office parties, it is common for drinks to be provided for free. It is easy for people to get overexcited about this or try to cover their nervousness and drink more than they should. It is important to remember that you will still have to interact with these people in the future and you don't want them to have a negative impression of you. The risk of doing something you regret increases if you get intoxicated, so it is best to know your limits and stick to them.

Whether you have had too much to drink or you are just caught up in the fun you are having, don't use the occasion to display all of your dance moves. If there is a dancefloor then by all means make use of it but this is not the time to twerk or do pelvic thrusts. If there is no dancefloor and no one is dancing then cool your heels and stay where you are. You risk making a spectacle of yourself otherwise. Save it for Saturday night with your besties instead.

5. Say hello & goodbye to the people that matter

When you get to the gathering, make sure to say hello, show appreciation, and shake hands with your hosts and the ones who planned the party. Engage in a brief conversation and make a compliment about the party that you truly liked such as the food, music, or decorations. Keep it to five minutes and then move on.

Before you depart, be sure to express your gratitude to the person in charge. Unfortunately, many people don't do this but it is a polite move that will not go unnoticed. Be sure to thank them for hosting the event and tell them you enjoyed yourself. Additionally, don't forget to thank the HR representative or anyone else who was involved in organising the work gathering.

6. Show up the next day

If the event is during the week be sure you go to work and arrive on time the next day. Your absence will definitely be noted and looks unbelievably unprofessional.

Wrapping up

It's important to remember the basics of etiquette when attending a work event. Have fun, but be mindful of how you interact with your colleagues and superiors - never forget that this is still a work occasion. By following these guidelines and having a bit of self-confidence, you can ensure that your behaviour at the next work event reinforces your professionalism and image as a team player, and leaves you with no regrets.

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