For many of us, it’s the most anticipated event of the work calendar. The annual office Christmas party. The firm’s way of saying ‘thanks for all the hard work: Let your hair down on us’.

But should you?

Some live to regret it. In fact, more than a few careers have ended on that fateful night in December. Ideally, every office Christmas party should come with a career health warning: ‘Party at your own risk’.

That’s not to say you can’t have fun. Done well, the Christmas party is great. You see your colleagues in a totally different light. You connect with people in ways that spark enduring friendships. And best of all, its great people watching. You’ll see what John from accounting is like after eight glasses of Shiraz. How the boss handles the booze and which of the partners turns sleazy after one too many.

On a serious note, Christmas party’s can be dangerous affairs and rarely go off without controversy. Often, they are talked about for months afterwards. Sometimes for years. The secret is to conduct yourself in a way that ensures you’re not the one being talked about.

Follow these three simple rules and you’ll be fine.

    1. Don’t drink too much

A good rule for life and essential when it comes to the office Christmas party.

Few of us are at our best when we’re blotto. But it must be said, some are better than others.

That’s where the ‘too much’ comes in. If you go off like a frog in a sock after one or two drinks, it’s best not to drink at all. On the other hand, if you can comfortably maintain your composure with a few under your belt, by all means drink in moderation.

The secret is to know your limits and not overdo it.

That can be tough. Christmas parties tend to have all the ingredients that lead people astray. A long, occasionally boring, meal with wait staff constantly refilling your glass. A full bar that won’t cost you a penny. Cocktails, and of course, peer pressure. Celebrating after a year of toil with your colleagues, the temptation to let loose can be overwhelming.

But when all is said and done, your future prospects depend on steering clear of trouble. The only way to be sure of that is to stay relatively sober.

Some tips that can help you keep things in check include saying no to those endless refills. Instead, finish each drink before you have another, and keep count of how many you have had. If you lose count, it’s definitely time to stop. Another good ploy is to alternate a non-alcoholic drink with every tipple. Avoid cocktails and other hard liquor. And whatever you do, don’t get sucked into rounds of shots.

  1. Never tell your boss what you really think

Another good rule for life, and one that tends to get broken exclusively at office Christmas parties.

The problem is, many of us stumble when it comes to the first rule. Excitement gets the better of us and at the end of a long night, we’re on a roll. Bizarrely, many see this as the perfect time for a deep and meaningful with their boss.

If you catch yourself heading down this dangerous path, the best thing you can do is politely say your goodbyes and head for home.

No matter what kind of relationship you have with your boss, or what it is you think you need to discuss, now is not the time. It’s a conversation you will almost certainly live to regret.

  1. Be on your best behaviour

Whether or not you end the night sober, or find yourself on the wrong side of tipsy, behave yourself, and there’ll be no slinking into the office wracked by guilt the next day.

It helps not to think about your Christmas party as just another night out. It’s an extension of your working life, and all the same rules apply. Essentially, you are expected to maintain the same level of professionalism that you do in the office.

What does that look like at a Christmas party?

Firstly, dress sharp, but relatively conservatively. If you’re wondering whether the outfit you’re considering is too casual, it probably is. It’s always better to take it up a notch.

If the party is at a public venue, there’s no need to bring a gift. But if a colleague, or your boss, has opened up their house, a gift will be appreciated. Once you are there, offer to help, where you can, be courteous and always thank and compliment your host on the way out.

Similar rules apply if the party is held at a venue. Always be courteous, polite and most of all gracious. If the food, service or anything else is not up to scratch, better not to mention it. Remember, someone has put a lot of effort into organising the event and your employer has spent a small fortune. It doesn’t hurt to say a quick thank you to the organisers and to your boss, if the opportunity arises.

In short, make every effort to relax and enjoy the night. But don’t forget you are at a work function and behave accordingly.