Work is work and play is play, right? That is usually true, except when the annual office party rolls around - that messy grey area where work and social life collide.

I just attended one on Monday, but some would consider it off-season. Usually, the annual event happens around the holiday season at the end of the year. It is also the time for human resource experts to weigh in with their annual lists of dos and don'ts at these social minefields.

The lists usually encompass these points: Drink in moderation. Don't pig out. Dress appropriately and don't show too much skin (sparkly clothes are fine, though). Keep to safe topics in conversations and avoid making off-colour jokes. Don't complain, gossip or flirt. Turn up at work on time the next day.

The bottom line is that although the party may be in a club, restaurant or your office pantry, it is still the office in a different place. Never forget that the party is ultimately still a work function.

That is, you can sidle up to your bosses and introduce yourself, but it is not okay to be sobbing into the shoulders of a colleague about your recent break-up.

I wonder which planet these career- advice givers come from - a sanitised world of highly functioning robots?

They remind me of the incredulity that I felt in the past when school teachers asked students to fill in a form saying how many hours of TV they watched a day. One, two or four?

I held my pencil for a long time, stumped. The truth was that I lived in front of the TV and lost count.

If you ask around, most real office parties are chaotic, noisy and end up with blatant flouting of these 'rules'. And I would not want them any other way.

Indeed, here is my one and only golden rule for office parties: Attend them.

There are many reasons why you should and let us start with the most Machiavellian. Office parties are places where hierarchies become more blurred and it is an appropriate place to sidestep the corporate ladder and have a chat with your company's decision-makers.

It is also a good way to socialise with your colleagues in a more relaxed environment, especially with the ones you don't know that well.

It may not always end well - someone you suspected was a bore ends up being a bore. But more often than not, people surprise you by being fundamentally decent and more interesting than you think.

People say you do not need to be friends with your colleagues to work well with them. I agree, but it would make the work environment so much sweeter if you were. Goodwill goes a long way.

Working well is about relationships and social skills. Influential American career blogger Penelope Trunk, who wrote the book Brazen Careerist, says 'office politics is about being nice' and not about backstabbing and manipulation. If you view office politics with dread, then maybe you are not that likeable to start with.

She also says 'you will like your work more if you make a friend at work'.

Another reason for attending the office party: to be a witness to the disasters, not a participant. You don't want to be the one asking what happened the next day. This is especially true for the journalism industry that I am in: You want to be the first to know and preferably be the first-hand witness.

Who fell off the stage? Who was so sloshed he was dancing with the pillar? Who poured water over himself while topless? (Guilty parties may skulk away quietly now.)

Office parties are such fertile grounds for embarrassment and humiliation that it has become something of a cliche to expect that misbehaving is part of the deal.

In 2008, the Singapore Repertory Theatre staged a British play called The Office Party, a year's worth of tension in the office ends up in binge-drinking, lust and abuse of the photocopier.

Everybody also has a favourite notorious office party story to tell. X went home with Y in the same taxi. A guy got so drunk that he had to be locked up in the toilet by his colleagues because he could not stop yelling at his boss.

Finally, one more reason to attend the office party: strategic communal misbehaviour in the interest of bonding.

If you want to embarrass yourself, don't do it alone, but do it with a group of colleagues who will end up being better friends with you.

Usually this must involve some kind of competition or performance by a group of workers. This could be a so-terrible- it's-good dance item, a heroic group KTV session or a painfully amateur sketch.

If it sounds self-congratulatory to mention that the Life! team won the Best Performance prize at the office party with a highly artistic and nuanced performance of a political debate, it is entirely intended. We will be spending the vouchers on expensive lunches in the next few weeks, and laughing at the video in years to come.

There may be people who still remain unconvinced that office parties should require compulsory attendance.

My civil service friends say their office parties are boring affairs where people play civilised party games. When they went to the now-defunct Ministry of Sound, they joked that they were having an inter-Ministry exchange.

And so for some people, this event generates the annual Hamlet-like source of angst: to go or not to go? Go, for the good of your mental health and to show your commitment to the company.

I have come up with an alternative list of rules to survive your office party: If there is a theme, go the whole nine yards and be serious about it. If it is a beach party, go as a mermaid, a shark or an ice-cream uncle.

Have more than two drinks. Don't run. Take along a camera but try not to be photographed.

Laugh at the first people on the dance floor for 30 minutes, then join in and try to outdo them. Dance with someone you have never danced with, but not your boss, because that could get weird.

If you are the only one singing along to some Westlife tune playing, shut up immediately.

Finally, if you really cannot go, I hope you have a good excuse.