Can You Bring A Casual Relationship To Your Office Holiday Party? Career Experts Weigh In

by Sydnee Lyons

The month of December brings with it a lot of questions, like should you ever ask a mall Santa out and how soon is too soon to spend the holidays together? Assuming these questions are related, a good preliminary question is, of course, can you bring a casual date to a holiday party at the office? Well, it depends. Bringing a casual date to an office party is a huge risk and you should weigh your options carefully.

Workplace psychologist Dr. Jude Miller Burke says, "Assuming your career is important to you, you don't want this decision to harm your reputation or the professional relationships you've worked so hard to establish." That said, there are a few things you absolutely must consider in this situation.

Where You Work

Your most urgent concern should be your work environment, which will ultimately give you an idea of what kind of party you’ll be attending. For example, if you work in an attorney’s office, it’s safe to say the holiday office party will be fairly formal — maybe an evening of cocktails and refined conversation — and casual dates might not fit in very well.

Even if you think you can judge the office vibe fairly well, it’s still a good idea to find out exactly what type of event to expect. Relationship counselor Jonathan Bennett warns, "If it’s a formal affair and the norm will be married, serious, or committed couples, then you might want to go alone. However, if it’s clearly a more fun, informal event, bringing along someone you’re casually dating shouldn’t be an issue."

The size of your company also plays a significant role in assessing the formality of the event. Career consultant Tiffani Murray says, "If you work for a company whose office party will likely have more than 500 people, it is more than acceptable to bring a friend or casual companion. In many cases, you won’t be the only person making this choice." In a quieter setting, an unfamiliar face is more likely to stand out so you should be prepared to introduce your date and have them interact closely with your colleagues.

Ideally, in either situation, you want to make sure that your date will feel comfortable and welcome at the event before inviting them; otherwise, you risk ruining the night for everyone and jeopardizing your reputation at the office.

What You Want Professionally

Speaking of your reputation at the office, you should think carefully about what you hope to accomplish professionally in the next few months before bringing a casual date to the office party. Jane Scudder, certified career coach, recommends asking yourself where you are in the company and where you'd like to be this time next year.

If you’re not interested in staying with your company for a long time or moving up the ranks, you might care very little what anyone thinks of you or your date. On the other hand, Scudder explains, "If you’re in the middle of making a case for a promotion or you’re vying for a new client, you should be mindful of whether or not bringing someone — this particular casual relationship — will help you achieve this." Think carefully about whether or not the person you bring will enhance your workplace relationships.

The office holiday party is a good opportunity to build stronger relationships with your colleagues by getting to know them better in a relaxed setting. Although this could be highly beneficial to your success within the company, it might be more difficult to do with a date by your side.

What You Want Personally

Figuring out what you hope to gain personally is just as important. If you know for a fact that this person will only be in your life for a few more weeks, introducing them to your work friends might complicate things unnecessarily.

But if you think you'd like to take things further with them eventually, this is a great opportunity to see how they behave in a social setting. Are they able to converse naturally with your colleagues? Do they take an interest in your work?

Even if you haven't given much thought to the future of this relationship, you should at least know what you hope to get out of this night. Scudder says, "If you think that this person would simply be a fun addition to the night and is ready to roll with the reality that office parties are unpredictable, and you're confident they can make good judgment calls in the moment, then why not?" You're allowed to have a little fun at the holiday party, if not a lot.

How Well You Know Your Date

That last part of Scudder's advice is key — how well do you know your date? It's not always fair but it's definitely true that people will judge you based on the company you keep.

You should have a general idea about how your date acts at parties. If they are uncomfortable around strangers or they get rowdy when they drink, these are signs you probably shouldn't bring them along.

Murray warns, "The less you know about your date, the less you might be prepared for any bad behavior that may reflect poorly on you." They might tell an off-handed joke or insult your boss. "But this can also happen with people you know very well. I've definitely seen spouses come to a holiday party and embarrass their significant other so there isn't really a playbook for knowing exactly what to do," she adds.

If things do take a turn for the worst, politely excuse yourself and your date early to avoid further damage to your reputation or work relationships. You might even have to do some damage control when you return to work the next day.

Navigating the office holiday party can be tricky, especially if you're a new employee. If you know that having a date by your side will make you more comfortable and you're confident that the person you've chosen won't embarrass you in front of your boss, then, by all means, bring them along.

The longer you’ve been dating someone, the more flexible these rules become. Dr. Miller Burke explains, “If you are very serious about the person, regardless of the fit, at some point you will want to integrate them into your life. And at that point, everyone will adapt.” Until then though, think carefully about whether or not you want to take that person you matched with a few weeks ago to your office holiday party.

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