Save yourself! Don’t do as I’ve done at the office Christmas party...

The week before Christmas can only mean one thing: it’s time to get a few awkward pints with people you only ever see at work. Ryan Coogan explains how to avoid embarrassing yourself, and shares some horror stories of his own...

Monday 25 December 2023 12:06 GMT
I have friends whose work drink horror stories keep them up at night
I have friends whose work drink horror stories keep them up at night (Getty Images)

It’s that time of year again, where we all collectively decide that work is over even though we’re technically in for three more days. Reports? Do them yourself. Emails? Absolutely not. Meetings? Only if nobody asks me any questions, and also I’m allowed to have a little sleep.

There’s only one big hurdle left before we’re finally allowed to officially clock off and enter the no-man’s land of the late December period: Christmas work drinks. That liminal celebration that isn’t quite a Christmas party with people who aren’t quite your friends, where you aren’t allowed to get quite as drunk as you need to in order to make the entire experience tolerable.

Don’t get me wrong, an end-of-year get together with your colleagues where you cut loose, free from the mundanity of the daily grind and act like human beings for a change isn’t the worst thing in the world. It can be a strangely liberating experience, seeing these people outside of the context of the black cloud of capitalism, at a time of year where it’s almost mandatory to be cheerful and relaxed.

But what about those occasions when it all becomes a little too liberated? When you get a little too relaxed? For with the freedom of the Christmas pint comes the anxiety of the Christmas hangover, and the creeping fear that you said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and that you won’t have a job at all come January.

We’ve all been there, sitting in the pub with our manager, loosening the tie and testing the waters with an off-colour joke or an Ofcom-approved swear word (a “damn” or a “crap”). Everything seems to be going well, the beer is flowing, so we push the boat out a bit more. Before we know it, the tie is around the head, and we’re telling the boss what we really think of them, using words that are very much not Ofcom approved (a “d***” or a “c***”).

Thanks to Covid and the subsequent normalisation of remote working, I’ve been spared the career-imperilling horror of the Christmas work drink for the past few years (nowadays all my career-imperilling horror happens via misjudged social media posts). I’m glad of it, too. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a work night out and managed to avoid terminally embarrassing myself. After all, is it really Christmas work drinks if you don’t immediately log into Indeed the next day and consider starting a new life?

Prior to my current work in journalism, I was a teacher. When you go drinking with teachers, you’re in for a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them relish the opportunity to show that they’re human beings outside of the classroom. Others got into the profession because they genuinely enjoy using words like “differentiation” and “scaffolding”. When you try to break the ice with a not-suitable-for-the-workplace joke, you don’t know if you’re going to get a laugh or written up for detention. One lad quit his PGCE the morning after coming out with us because he was convinced he’d embarrassed himself beyond repair (I wasn’t kidding about that Indeed thing, earlier).

My experiences are fairly run-of-the-mill, but I have friends whose work drink horror stories keep them up at night. “One time we were out on the last Friday before Christmas and one girl got so drunk she started ranting about Brexit, telling us all how it was good they were finally kicking all the foreigners out”, reports one. “A couple of things to note: half our workforce was there on visa, we were a refugee charity, and she was the head of HR. Who do you even report that to?”

Another said: “A colleague once chatted me up at a work do and gave me her number. I quite fancied her so I didn’t mind, until I later realised that her husband (who up until that point I did not know existed) was at the bar with us. He bought me a drink later that night because he didn’t know. Actually… God, I hope he didn’t know”.

Another simply said: “Drank tequila; threw up on the boss.” That one’s fairly self-explanatory.

It isn’t all sexual harassment and vomiting, though. I’ve written before about how I used to work as a dinner lady, and our school would regularly organise drinks at the end of term. It was through those events that I met the friends who made that job bearable. I do have a story about trying it on with one of the history teachers, but we’ve just celebrated our 10-year anniversary, so I don’t think that counts as an embarrassing anecdote.

So before you hit “yes” on that RSVP, just remember: avoid politics, avoid tequila, and if all else fails, a change of career might not be the worst thing in the world...

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