Sloshed: How Drunk Can You Get at Your Office Christmas Party?

The guy in the Santa costume always has the most fun. Photo: SSPL/Getty Images

One of the things that makes office holiday parties both wonderful and awful is how often they devolve into total drunken shitshows. Several years ago, after a particularly debauched evening, I had to write an e-mail to a former boss apologizing for "that whole shirtless ABBA thing." His response: "I don't remember anything from last night." This is the conundrum of holiday parties: You need a drink because it softens the awkwardness of mixing work relationships with holiday merriment, but drink too much and you'll end up in a situation that's far more awkward in the sobering fluorescent light of Monday morning. Ideally you want to locate yourself right on the boundary of personal embarrassment. I'm here to help you find that line, and retain your dignity.

Obviously, staying sober is one way to avoid morning-after embarrassment, but let's just work on the theory that this method is bunk. In the same way nobody wants to be the office drunk, nobody wants to be the office prude.

Here, then, is a handy guide to getting just drunk enough at your company's holiday party:


Know your company and know your role.Illustration: Jen Cotton

The above chart is of course a much-simplified guide to all of the various factors and intricacies that will dictate just how drunk you can comfortably get among your officemates. It's a good benchmark, but there are several key things to consider beforehand.

Know Your Corporate Environment
The first thing you need to figure out is: How cool is your company? On the surface, this should be an easy one. Cool companies let you show up wearing Chucks, and the office looks like a college dorm room. Uncool companies require that their workers know the intricacies of Microsoft Office. But the truth is that plenty of bosses who are buttoned up by day not only love to party, but love to encourage their co-workers to do the same. By that same token, sandal-wearing start-up CEOs aren't always as chill about drinking as they are about open-toed footwear.

The real distinction to make is how closely your company allows your Work Identity (W.I.) to acknowledge your Party Identity (P.I.). Does a professional demeanor at your office come at the expense of hiding who you are when you're not at work? Or are shenanigans accepted as long as you get your work done (or even if you don't)? The more comfortable you feel talking about your P.I. while at work, the cooler your company is.

If you're unsure, consult this handy checklist:

Some signs you probably work for a cool company:
• You have been hung-over at work and acknowledged it to your immediate supervisor, only to have her/him respond with empathy.
• There is a pool table at the office.
• You have been skydiving/surfing/to a shooting range with at least some of your co-workers.
• Unique facial hair choices are not discouraged.
• Your holiday party is held at a loft, and people who don't work for your company try to crash it.
• You often see beer in the office fridge and/or cocaine in the office bathroom, or vice versa.

Some signs you probably don't work for a cool company:
• You had to take a drug test before you were hired.
• The company has a dress code, which is written down.
• The dress code is so antiquated that it still contains a "casual Friday" section.
• The holiday party is held in the office conference room, in the afternoon, and people try to leave early to beat traffic.
• Your co-workers label their cartons of milk in the office fridge.
• Not one single person has a Mad Men-style minibar in his or her office.

Obviously, the cooler the company is, the more likely it is that one of your co-workers will end up wearing his tie like a headband at some point during the party, meaning it won't look so bad when you get up on the bar and start signing "Dancing Queen" alongside him.

How Much Embarrassment Can Your Career Handle?
Once you establish what kind of company you work for, it's time to take a look at yourself. What you specifically want to know is, How much do you care about potentially making a fool of yourself in front of co-workers? Again, you'll want to examine a variety of different factors: Your skill level at work, any lingering personal eccentricity, your desires for career advancement, and, most important, your role at the company.

Of course, every situation is different, but here at Sloshed HQ, we've come up with some handy guidelines that should serve as good jumping-off points for most people.

If you even got invited to the company holiday party, good job. Your goal now is to not look like a n00b while you're there.
Cool company: How old are you, anyway? Grab a drink or two if you're legal. (Add one additional drink for every time a company employee asks you if you've got any weed.)
Uncool company: You get no drinks, unless an employee foists them on you. And even then, keep it classy.

Tread lightly: You probably actually do still go out and get wasted with some regularity, so it won't feel too strange throwing back a lot of (probably free) drinks. And yet, this is a good time to rein it in. We know that open bar is tempting.
Cool company: Stay two drinks behind whoever your boss is.
Uncool company: Ibid.

Plateaued Cog in the Machine
If you self-identify as a P.C.i.t.M. — i.e., you have come to terms with the fact that being an acquisitions editor sucks just as much as any other desk job, and you also don't care about moving up the ladder because it sucks just as bad up there — it's time to drown your sorrows. Because fuck it, right?
Cool company: However many it takes to get you where you need to be. The goal is to be a fun drunk, so your soon-to-be-ex-co-workers will at least have an epic story to tell about you after the fact.
Uncool company: Let's say six or seven drinks? Just don't throw up on anyone you might want a recommendation from in the future.

Middle Management
People report to you, you report to people. That is your whole job. That means you can't look like an asshole to anyone.
Cool company: Your goal is to buck the "middle management" stereotype. Have two cocktails, then chase them with a beer.
Uncool company: Your goal is to reinforce the "middle management" stereotype. Stay away from the spirits and stick to a glass or two of wine. (Red or white — your choice.) You want to stay clear-headed if you're going to get that big promotion, after all.

Skilled Labor
You have some special skill that the suits can't easily replace, which makes you indispensable to a certain degree. Use this to your advantage (but remember there are other people who know how to program iPad apps, or whatever it is you do).
Cool company: Four drinks, all cocktails, each one something different.
Uncool company: Almost the same as above, but because your skills are probably making more money for the uncool company, add a fifth drink.

Senior Management
You're basically responsible for keeping the company running (even if the boss steals all of your ideas as his own).
Cool company: Have a couple drinks to show the underlings that you're not a total square.
Uncool company: It's going to fall on you to keep yourself, and your boss, in check. Order one drink at the party, but make it last the whole night. Have a nice single malt or two when you get home.

The Boss
You set the tone — just remember you have to keep the shareholders happy and maintain some semblance of authority in the minds of your employees.
Cool company: Your company may be cool, but you're not a rock star just yet; cool companies become decidedly less so when their boss is a public drunk. Stick to three cocktails.
Uncool company: This is when working at an uncool company allows you to drink as much as you want, since you are, no doubt, a major power player. Do whatever you want, but don't let it turn into a scandal.

Some Important Exceptions
As I said, the above are starting points, but are not necessarily where your final drink tally will end up. Below are some situations that will have you adjusting your intake accordingly.

• Your immediate boss is drunk enough to be slurring his or her speech. +1 drink
• There is no real food at the party. -2 drinks
• You have a meeting the next morning before 10 a.m. -1 drink
• There are shareholders at the party. -1 drink for each one you'll have to meet
• You have a crush on someone at the office, and either they, or you, is married. Have zero drinks — trust me
• You have a crush on someone at the office and you are both single. +1 drink, and make sure you don't have anything in your teeth
• Wrestling of any kind breaks out among co-workers. +3 drinks
• That intern actually does have some pretty good weed. +1 joint

In the end, what you really want to do is let yourself have a good time, while keeping in mind that things can get out of hand much more easily than you might think. But if they do, it's not like ripping off your shirt and singing ABBA to your boss is the end of the world, right? Right?

Matthew Latkiewicz writes about drinking and other subjects at You Will Not Believe. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Wired,, Boing Boing, and Gastronomica. Follow him on Twitter.