Christmas is the time of good will to all men (well mostly all). It’s also the season of the most fascinating corporate event of the year: the office party. As something of an amateur psychologist, I’ve enjoyed observing these occasions over the years, categorizing and analyzing the various characters and their often out-of-character behavior.

Don’t underestimate the significance of the Christmas Beanfeast, it’s the great leveler and the perfect occasion for making and breaking reputations.

Has life suddenly become just a blur?

It’s also the time when slime-balls sound smooth, suave, and sophisticated, hairy-chinned cleaners seem irresistibly sexy, and inhibitions scare local air traffic controllers by suddenly taking off for an unscheduled flight out of the nearest open window. The corporate Christmas party gives plenty of opportunity for tongues to loosen through an excess of alcoholic lubrication which, in turn, often causes some words to be said which might have been better left unsaid.

What starts off as a laudable exercise in team bonding can easily end up as a dog- or cat-fight (depending upon gender, personality, and choice of weaponry).

Once upon of time when I was a mere sprog (as we used to say when referring to us invisible office juniors), what got said in the heat of the moment was usually forgotten. Bizarre antics (which only make sense after an excess of beer and spirits) such as announcing the winner of an unofficial competition to find the ugliest wife or the most obnoxious co-worker would be put down to ‘not being able to hold his/her drink’ and get relatively quickly forgotten. Even a full-scale bar brawl resulting in the odd lost tooth or broken nose might well go unpunished.

If the governor did feel it needed to be taken further, a sharp word from ‘on high’ and you either gave a sincere and humble apology to the offended party or summarily dismissed from the company as appropriate. Either way it was deemed to be over.

Nowadays it’s a very different matter. We’ve already looked at the dangers of having your infamous moments recorded for posterity (but not prosperity) on one of the ubiquitous mobile telephones / camera / social media devices. Bent double in the parking lot with your stomach divesting itself of the spicy chicken wings, salty bar nibbles and copious amounts of alcohol you subjected it to earlier, some happy snapper will be there capturing the moment ready to share it with the world. Better still if you didn’t make it out of the party room.

That’s just what you need. While the photographer may think it’s funny, you definitely won’t when you get turned down for promotion or an interview for a new job. It’s not so innocent either. I have no doubt that more than one click-happy amateur shutterbug will be ‘carpe-dieming’ in order to sabotage a rival. And, with redundancies and lay-offs becoming increasingly common, I’m not just talking about the ambitious ‘bright young things’. I’m on about the ordinary Joe/Jo too who is anxious that they are looking good for an extended unpaid vacation.

Again, this is a sign of the times. Twenty years ago to get someone’s reputation shot in this way would have entailed bringing an expensive camera along to the party (clearly not a good idea), staying sober enough to get the photo in focus (unlikely), paying to get the film developed and then paying again (the best part of a small fortune) to take out large adverts in a selection of national newspapers (who probably would have been wary of printing something so potentially libelous).

Even then the chances are that only a handful of people would notice or remember the piece. Employers whom the ‘hit’ contacted years from the date of the incident would certainly not recall it – why should they?

In other words, this notion of a social crime that carries a lifetime punishment is a new problem and one which needs considering if the consequences of one night’s madness are not to damage your career. The old textbooks no longer apply; we have new rules nowadays.

And don’t think that only the well-heeled upper echelons of your organization are in the firing line. It applies to workers at all levels. Jobs are scarce and the few employers who are recruiting at the moment are undoubtedly finding it difficult to discriminate between a selection of promising candidates. Imagine you were the boss and you had two equivalent resumes in front of you, but one candidate was being depicted on the internet showing parts of their body best left clothed, picking a beery fight with the aforementioned slime-ball in accounts, or cavorting with another member of staff while their spouse is clearly blithely unaware.

Hey! Check out my Facebook page.

There are some entertaining reminiscences of how not to behave at company Christmas parties on this blog.  All I will say on the matter is that the writer was lucky to get away with it at the time. But what would happen now? If a recruitment officer read this or saw photos of the events happening how would they view his job application? Read it again and put yourself in the employer’s position .

See what I mean?

While I am advocating having fun – it’s a party, after all – I’m also saying now is not the time to break the mold. Dress conventionally, behave formally, and give the traffic cop who pulls you over a major disappointment when they find you’ve been on sodas all night or, if you did drink, you stuck to one glass of beer or wine and made it last.

At the Christmas party you are what you drink and, if you deviate from the accepted boring old norm, you will be remembered for what you do. If you head to a bar or six first and then act like a frat or sorority kid who’s been let loose in a liquor store, you jeopardize not just your immediate job prospects but also those for years to come. Likewise, using the moment to settle a few ‘old scores’ is not recommended.

That is, not unless you’re the crafty dude with the camera. In which case, snap away!

The Boss ran an employment agency for 12 years before selling it to a rival company. During the years of his directorship, the business received over 15,000 job applications and had nearly 1,000 active outworkers at any one time. Before that, The Boss was a senior officer in marketing and management. As a key part of his work, he has both devised aptitude tests and interviewed extensively. He is now a busy careers journalist working from home.