Office-party blunder? How to live it down

If you had a bit too much liquid cheer, or said or did something your co-workers are still snickering about, here's how to get past it.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I am so embarrassed I could die. I've been working at this company for about a year and have always been attracted to my boss. (We're both single and unattached.) But I managed to keep it a secret - until last night. At our department's Christmas party, I drank kind of a lot. I don't usually drink at all, so it really went to my head. My boss asked me to dance - he was asking each of the women, not just me - but I guess I got carried away and made my feelings for him pretty obvious. My memory is a blur but I do recall holding on to him more closely than was called for, and not letting go after the music stopped. I also may have told him how I feel about him. Aaauuuggghhh!

Today, on top of a killer headache, I'm getting grins and nudges from co-workers, which is bad enough, but the worst part is, my boss seemed pretty frosty when I said "hi" as I came in this morning. Should I apologize to him? Will people ever forget about this? Should I quit my job? -Hiding in My Cubicle

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Dear Hiding: Oy. Don't quit your job. But, given the chilly reception you got from your boss today, an apology would seem to be in order. "The first, and hardest, part of bouncing back from a workplace misstep is apologizing to the affected person or persons," says Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of WorldWIT, an online network of women in the IT industry. "Go to your boss and say something like, 'I want to apologize for the way I acted. I feel very bad about it.' That's all. You don't need to gush or try to make amends, unless you damaged or destroyed personal property." (You didn't - did you?)

In honor of this festive season, WorldWIT recently polled its 50,000-plus members worldwide and asked: What are your top five holiday office party regrets?

You may be comforted to know that 75% regret "consuming three or more alcoholic beverages."

Nearly half say they are mortified at having forgotten a colleague's name.

One-third regret kissing up to managers, while 13% were embarrassed at getting caught gossiping.

One out of five women surveyed became romantically involved with a coworker at an office party. Then what happened? About one-third admit that the party sparks ignited a brief affair; 13% say they are still amorously involved with the person to this day. Another 27% report that, in the sober light of day, they just "pretended it never happened."

Once you have apologized to your boss, that's what you should do, too. "Time will be the best remedy for your mistake," says Ryan. Time, and following these three tips for anyone who has committed an office-party gaffe:

  • "Watch your step for the next long while," Ryan suggests. "Depending on the heinousness of your crime, that while could range anywhere from two weeks to six months or more. Be cool, do your work, and be overly respectful and careful until you're back in good standing.
  • Avoid a relapse. "If you have to stay away from workplace social events for a while, do it," says Ryan. "If your colleagues are going to start in again on, 'Remember when Jane was all over Joe on the dance floor?' then it might be better if you're not there." Hmmm. Personally, I think that if you're brave enough, you should show up - and stick to Coke or club soda. If anyone starts reminiscing about your dirty dancing, change the subject, or just walk away.
  • Don't dwell on it. "Life goes on," Ryan notes. "You don't have to keep apologizing. It's over, and tomorrow is a new day."

How true. Hang in there, concentrate on your job, and, with any luck, it won't be long before someone else messes up at work, or some other newsworthy event occurs to grab people's attention - and then the co-workers who are now grinning and nudging you will move on to gossiping about that.

What was your most embarrassing moment at a work party? Were you able to recover? How? And what shenanigans have you seen co-workers or bosses get into? Post your stories on the Ask Annie blog.

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