As holiday greetings start arriving in mailboxes and inboxes, many employees start counting the days until the company holiday party.  Some mark the countdown with feelings of fear or dread, some as an opportunity to get ahead, while others look to the company party as a time to come together and let their hair down.

Navigating a holiday office party can sometimes be a minefield, with many people avoiding them altogether in fear of consequences. There are many temptations at these events that can lead to unbecoming behavior:  overindulgence in food or alcohol, inappropriate conversations, socializing too much or too little, and the list goes on.

“15% of companies recently surveyed said an employee’s behavior at a holiday party has impacted his or her career growth at the company. And it’s usually not for the better,” says Jennifer Azara in a recent article in the CFO Daily News.

Even with the possible downsides, many company cultures promote the annual event as a time for employees to let loose at the end of a long year.  Often, rules and etiquette that are normally found in the office setting are thrown out the window in the ‘spirit of the season.’  And, perhaps part of the fun is breaking down the barriers between colleagues so that there are stronger bonds in the coming year.

But, there are lots of opportunities to be had at a holiday office party.  If you’re looking for a promotion or to make a move into another department, the office party can be the time to grab senior management’s ear and make a good impression or to introduce yourself to co-workers in another department.

It can also be a great chance to network, even if you’re looking to transition to another company, as many people bring spouses and friends that can be resources in your job search.  Taking time to shake a few hands and take an interest in others could land you your next opportunity.

While a balance can be had for having fun and using a holiday office party strategically for your career, which purpose does the annual event serve for you (or wish it served): Do you fight for your right to party and let loose? Or, is it strictly a time to network and set the stage for the coming year? Vote in this week’s birdfeud!

And if you’re the type who generally avoids the office party altogether, here’s a great article from Alison Green on why you should attend your office party, and a great Life Hacker piece that will help you navigate it like a pro.

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