holiday-party.jpgDespite continued tough economic conditions most employers will be getting their party on this holiday season, and many of them plan to serve booze.

A study released today by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found alcohol will be flowing at many companies this year.

“The most surprising finding of the survey was that about half of the respondents said their companies would be serving alcohol at their holiday parties,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer for the firm. “In addition to the added cost, serving alcohol adds a level of risk that most companies should strive to avoid. However, despite the increased cost and risk of including alcohol, many companies still embrace it as part of the festive atmosphere.”

Employers want you to party hardy, but that doesn’t mean you should whip out the lampshade.

The holiday party has long been a tense event for many employees faced with a host of soirée questions: How to act? What to wear? How friendly to be?

Worker concerns have only gotten more intense during tough economic times, say workplace experts, because no one wants to do anything to jeopardize their jobs and some workers aren’t in a partying mood after seeing coworkers laid off, or their paychecks and benefits shrink.

And since many companies are planning on serving alcohol, this creates more of an opportunity for an employee to overindulge and do something stupid.

But bypassing your company bash is not a smart career move, especially in a tough labor market. “That just sends the wrong message,” says Dale Winston, CEO of recruiting firm Amrop Battalia Winston. “If your company is opting to have a party, show up and if you’re not happy suck it up.” Just be on your best behavior, she added.

If you’re company is planning a party and you’re worried about what to do, here are some don’ts to keep in mind in order to make your attendance career-enhancing, not career-killing:

Don’t drink too much

Getting drunk at a holiday party is the quickest way to tarnish your reputation at work, according to workplace experts but people still do it.

A poll by Adecco, a staffing company, found that 20 percent of people surveyed had too much to drink at a work holiday party and 14 percent say they know someone who was fired for their behavior at a holiday party. And another study done by Harris Interactive for Caron Treatment Centers, a nonprofit provider of alcohol and drug treatment, found-one third of respondents thought it was appropriate for employees to drink three drinks or more at a company bash.

The question is how much is too much? “Company holiday parties are best navigated with abstinence,” suggests Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed therapist for Caron.

He pointed to research the Centers have done showing “people tend to behave badly at holiday parties when they drink alcohol, (with instances of) inappropriate flirting with colleagues or saying something to your boss you later regret.”

“In this hypercompetitive environment,” he added, “corporations are hypersensitive to lapses in judgments and sloppy behavior among its employees. Holiday parties are no exception.”

If you’re one of those people that can stop after one drink, you’ll probably be fine. But, he stressed, “if you can’t live without alcohol for a few hours at a company event or feel like you need the booze to relax — that could indicate you have a problem with alcohol. Don’t bring that problem into a corporate environment.”

He offered some tips for resisting the cocktails:

* Before you attend make a clear time and when you’ll be departing the party and stick to it.

* Keep your hands full. Sparkling water with lime is the perfect corporate holiday party drink.

* Make a pact with a trusted colleague that the two of you will abstain from drinking alcohol this year.

* Challenge yourself to meet and spend at least five minutes with 10 colleagues who you don’t know well.

Don’t overdress

“Know that photos will be taken at your party and live on forever,” warns fashion expert Teri Sutherland, general manager of outlet center Woodburn Company Stores in Oregon.

Sutherland recalled a manager she had worked with in the past that was typically “mouse-ish and unrefined in her career wear” but decided to make a splash at the company party.

She wore a snakeskin micro-mini outfit with a plunging sequined halter-top and 4” heels with fishnet stockings.

Unfortunately, Sutherland added, the manager “was never able to recuperate the level of respect that perished within seconds of making that fateful party entrance.”

Don’t get personal

Even though you may be pining for someone in your workplace, don’t use the holiday party as the occasion to make your move.

Greg Rasin, an employment attorney for law firm Proskauer, had a situation with an employee in a managerial position, who had a few too many drinks, made comments about a rank and file employee’s body and her looks, and “sort of grabbed her.”

The manager was asked to leave the party and when he got back to work the next day an investigation was launched into his behavior, Rasin recalled. “The employee was terminated for his conduct.”

Don’t bring a date gone wild

Often times, the ruckus at company parties is caused by the guest of an employee, according to employment lawyers who have litigated post-party sexual harassment claims.

The problems sometimes stem from a guest not understanding the culture at a company. So it’s a good idea to have a chat with your date on what’s acceptable behavior.

“But that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to bring a guest, especially a significant other,” advises Charles Purdy, a Monster editor and the author of the book “Urban Etiquette.” “It allows your colleagues get to see another side of your life,” he says.

Don’t bitch about work

There’s nothing like a more casual setting to get people feeling comfortable to talk about what’s on their minds. But even though work tends to consume every waking hour of our lives today, Purdy believes talking shop is a holiday party no-no.

“Don’t burden a coworker with your problems,” he advises. “Leave the office at the office.”

And try to have some fun. That’s what parties are all about after all, especially during tough times.

“You ought to be able and sit down and enjoy each other’s company and say, ‘we’ve made it through this together,’” says Tillman Coffey, an employment attorney with law firm Fisher & Phillips.

Save the real fun for the parties with your friends and family.

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