Illustration by Dave van Patten

Can I Save My Reputation After I Threw Up at the Office Party?

The second in our weeklong series on how to survive the office holiday party with your reputation intact

So it begins — the start of office holiday party season. (Even the movies say so.) To help you navigate yours, we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know and the woman behind our biweekly ‘Go See HR’ column. Every day this week she’ll be answering one holiday party-specific question to ensure that your festive office gathering results in harmless fun instead of a never-ending nightmare your co-workers won’t let you live down.

Last year, I didn’t just get wasted at the company party, I actually threw up in front of everyone. It’s been nearly 12 months, and no one has forgotten. In fact, someone mentions it at least once a week. Should I just quit at this point, or can I use this year’s holiday party to show that I’ve learned the error of my ways? —Sylvia M., Seattle
Redeeming your professional status begins with self-awareness. When you do something stupid publicly, you turn into the office urban legend. Even people who weren’t there for your intraoffice display of hurling may look askance when they meet you. So my first question would be, why can’t people let it go after nearly 12 months? Did you express authentic regret at your inappropriate, juvenile behavior to your co-workers when you saw them afterward? Or did you sheepishly apologize and laugh it off? How you react in the immediate aftermath sets the tone for how seriously you consider your actions and is as important as anything else you can do in the future.

My guess is that you didn’t handle those first few hours, days or weeks all that well, and that you’re still relatively blasé about your past behavior, leaving your colleagues to take their cues from you. Because in the past year, you’ve probably been at other company events and/or out with colleagues where alcohol was served. If you’ve been circumspect about alcohol consumption in those situations, you should have redeemed yourself by now.

So yeah, it might be too late for this job, but if you make a mistake like that at a future gig, my advice would be to do a better job of showing your co-workers that you’ve learned your lesson. Talk to them about the importance of your job and your reputation. Be contrite and sincere. Otherwise, promising them you won’t get drunk like that again might sound like an empty promise.

Most of all, show them you’ve learned the error of your ways. Because you don’t have to worry about how much is too much with a glass of Coke or sparkling water in your hand.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.