Have a Plan to Keep from Overindulging at Holiday Parties

By Bill Leonard Dec 12, 2013
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‘Tis the season for overindulgence.

Some workers have come to fear office holiday parties because of the social pressures to imbibe cocktails and consume copious amounts of sugary treats. Although social norms are changing and it is becoming more acceptable to say no, peer pressure is still a powerful thing, and some employees struggle with the temptations of food and drink.

“The holidays can be a very stressful time for everyone, but especially for people who are battling addictions or alcoholism,” said Deni Carise, Ph.D., deputy chief clinical officer at CRC Health Group in Philadelphia. “At holiday parties, people do feel pressure to fit in and often can fall into the trap of ‘Oh, just one drink won’t hurt anybody.’ ”

Although most people want to fit in and make a favorable impression with co-workers and supervisors, Carise says that it’s OK to choose not to drink or overeat and that everyone should respect an individual’s right to make that choice.

“Still, you will have co-workers and even a supervisor who say, ‘Come on, join us—have a drink,’ ”And, in an effort not to appear standoffish, many people struggling with a substance abuse or alcohol problem can suddenly find themselves in trouble during the holidays,” she said.

Companies should keep this in mind when planning holiday parties and make it clear to employees that they should respect their colleagues’ choice on how they want to celebrate.

“Peer pressure can be very tough to overcome, but no one should feel uncomfortable saying no or in leaving a party early to avoid further temptations,” she said.

Before attending an office party, decide how long you want to stay and prepare how you will respond to co-workers or supervisors who may invite you to imbibe. Carise suggests going with a friend and making plans in advance, such as dinner reservations or another party, to provide a good excuse to leave or turn down offers of more food or drink.

“If you say, ‘Sorry, I have another party to attend later this evening,’ most people will accept that and move on,” she said. “The key is to have a plan and then stick to it.”

Before the holiday gathering, employers should encourage their staff to enjoy themselves and not feel pressure to stay late and overindulge.

“There are some really good subtle ways for employers to get this message across by telling employees up front to have a good time but feel free to leave whenever they are ready to go,” Carise said. “We all have other obligations in our lives. Friends and families should come first during the holiday season, and employers should convey this message so that everyone is comfortable with the idea.”

In addition, office parties should have an assortment of food and drink available, so that people can choose what they consume.

“Sparkling ciders, cranberry juice, ginger ale and punch can all be very festive beverages, and the choices of mocktails can really help alleviate pressure on those who want to feel that they fit in with the celebration,” Carise said.

Her best advice for anyone who dreads the idea of negotiating another holiday party? “Just relax, have fun, and don’t succumb to pressures.”

“Lucky for us, we live in a day and age where it’s more socially acceptable to say no. Most people are aware about the dangers of drinking and eating too much,” she said. “Still, there are some industries and companies where the pressures to overindulge are still the norm and ingrained in the culture. If you understand this and understand your limits and stick to your plan, then you should be well prepared to deal with the holiday pressures.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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