Denver Bar Association
December 2012
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Holiday Cheer Can Lead to Fear of Ambiguous Office Politics

by Becky Bye


he holiday season has arrived yet again (though according to commercials and store displays, it began in September). Despite the extra days away from the office and the work slow-down many attorneys experience, the "season of giving" certainly gives attorneys a new source of stress and anxiety: ambiguous office politics and unwritten social expectations among workplace employees.

For all attorneys, especially ones that are new to an office or job, the holidays are a true test of social diplomacy, which can make or break your social capital for years to come. Below is a breakdown of situations that occur during the holidays and how to best handle them.

Holiday Parties: Most workplaces host formal or informal holiday parties.

Remember, despite the free alcohol and food, this also serves as an evaluation. People are watching you and how you react to awkward comments and social situations. Do your best to be as benign as possible. You don’t want to be "that" person who had too much holiday punch and decided to really get people in the holiday spirit by being loud and sloppy, randomly laughing, especially during serious conversations, or purging what you consumed at the holiday party on the office floor as an embarrassing commemoration of how much fun you really had. By the time it gets to that point, your office will know how much fun you had, and they do not need a stain on the rug to serve as a reminder.

Some attorneys may take advantage of the laid-back atmosphere of holiday parties to also show a laid back or inappropriate approach to dressing. Despite the context of the work party, you are still a professional and must remember you are mingling with professional colleagues. You are not at a college fraternity party. People will remember whether you showed too much skin, had a wardrobe malfunction, or wore any inappropriate attire.

iPhone photos and unwanted Facebook "tags" will only serve as reminders of these lapses in judgement.

Get through the holiday party unscathed and you will pass this holiday obstacle successfully. As much as you think a holiday party is the time to let loose, it can also leave a lasting negative impression.

Gifts: Holiday gift-giving in the office also can be awkward, depending on your relationship with your colleagues. Numerous questions always persist, such as do you purchase gifts for your boss? Co-workers? Legal support staff? If so, how much do you spend per gift? What if finances are tight?

What if you don’t like these people?

Also, once you determine your gifts’ recipients, what do you get them that is not offensive? Even worse, what should you do if you get a present you are not expecting only to have no present for that individual in return?

All of these questions are ones you must confront every year, and to an even greater extent, for those celebrating their first holiday season with a new office. I suggest using your judgment and your specific circumstances to navigate how much you spend and to whom you bestow your gifts. (To alleviate some of this stress, we’ve got you covered with our gift guide for friends, colleagues, and clients on page 10.) I find some of the best gift options include gift certificates and wine or novelty food items.

If you aspire to avoid the awkward gift-exchange altogether, you can send out cards to everyone at your office and note that instead of giving gifts this year, you will donate money to a charity in your office’s name, which is a win-win situation for all (and if you say this, you must follow through).

Alternatively, if you do prefer to purchase gifts for co-workers but are still worried that you might get a surprise gift from someone and would like to reciprocate, I suggest purchasing a variety of "catch-all" gifts and keeping them in your office just in case. If they go unused, you can always gift them next year or use them yourself. For example, you can keep an emergency stash of gift cards or boxes of fancy chocolate.

Religion at the workplace: Whether you identify with any of the world’s religions or not, one’s religion or lack thereof is always a touchy subject among work colleagues and can often be a subject of controversy and heated discussions. If you are employed in a workplace of diverse religious perspectives, I suggest remembering this diversity during your discussions about holidays and holiday plans. Also, when wishing someone well, I suggest using "Happy Holidays," because it applies to people of all backgrounds.

Although the holiday season is concentrated at the tail-end of the year, your actions can leave unintended social consequences at the office for months or years afterward. Ultimately, try to maintain your status quo or even enhance your position in the workplace hierarchy by not embarrassing yourself and keeping a low profile.D

Becky Bye


Becky Bye may be reached at

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