Most people use it as an excuse to let loose at their employer's expense, but a growing number are seizing the opportunity to release pent-up sexual tension, translating furtive glances shared over a PC desktop into true love.

In the past free food and booze have always been the biggest draw, but in this credit-crunch climate - where the petty cash is unlikely to stretch beyond a paltry mince pie - a chance to flirt with work colleagues could provide the biggest pull.

According to Elizabeth Kuhnke, author of Body Language For Dummies, this is a great time of year to be looking for a new partner.

"The festive season is the ideal time to look for love," she says. "Parties are in abundance meaning spirits are high and inhibitions are low."

Unfortunately, it's also the same time of year that most of us are looking pale, sun-starved and weathered by the elements. For Kuhnke, though, that's not a problem. Successful singles aren't always the belles of the ball.

"It's a little known fact that availability counts for more than beauty in the dating game.

"A man will tend to pursue a woman who may not be the most attractive in the room, as long as she's giving off signals indicating her availability. The most important thing to understand when searching for a partner is how to communicate your interest."

Kuhnke adds: "Women focus on their hair, clothing and make-up when preparing to go out, but they must also remember that their body language is instrumental for gaining and maintaining the interest of a partner. Understanding the key signals, and using them to your advantage, matters more than an outfit."

So dressing up - or down - is the easy part, and hours wasted styling hair could be better spent learning how to flick locks coquettishly. In fact, the only things we should really be applying in the mirror are body language techniques.

Sending out signals by means of subtle physical nuances might sound complicated, but it all comes under the umbrella of flirting.

So how do you perfect it to a fine art?

"The essence of a good flirt is confidence, empathy and humour," says Jean Smith, a social anthropologist and founder of Flirting & Walking tours in London (

"A good flirt makes the other person feel good, and because they're so confident, they don't need the validation back - although they always get it."

What's more, flirting can be used as a tool to generate success in other areas of your life.

"The benefits of being a good flirt are wide and varied and whatever the flirt wants them to be", adds Smith.

"Whether that's an upgrade, a discount, a job, or a date for Saturday night."

Peta Heskell, the original Flirt Coach and board member of The Academy of Marriage, Sex and Relationships (, agrees.

"When you can flirt with anyone, for fun, with or without the sexual element and you know who to flirt with and who not to, it makes people feel good about you and that leads to social and business success," she says.

It may not always seem the case, but according to Heskell we were all born flirts.

"Flirting is a natural mechanism designed to help us send signals to someone we like so they might make the approach but some of us have had it parented, 'friended' or schooled out of us."

Sadly, many of us have lost the confidence to flirt. Heskell suggests hiring a Flirt Coach to remedy the problem, but there are plenty of DIY steps you can take.

If you're shy, Heskell suggest practicing with older people or children.

"They're more amenable to connection as they're often less inhibited and more laid back. Put your full attention on them as they come towards you, think nice thoughts about them, and look at them. It isn't rocket science, smile and say hello.

"The more you practice, the more naturally you'll do it with someone you really like."

While making eye contact and smiling are obvious flirting tips, why not try some more obscure suggestions?

Elizabeth Kuhnke recommends "exposing your soft underarm... a part of the body that most men find attractive".

Another trick is to tilt your head, revealing the skin on your neck.

"This makes you look helpless and sexy, a combination few red blooded men can resist".

A good flirt will also learn to read situations well. Jane Hoskyn, dating expert at, says listening is key. She suggests remembering things a man mentions early in the conversation and repeating them later, making him think you have a great deal in common.

And it's not only a case of developing your own body language, but also interpreting your partner's.

"If he likes you, he'll follow your eye contact by pushing his shoulders back and puffing out his chest - it's a primate thing," she says.

"Also watch out for a suppressed smile and super-quick raised eyebrows."

Once the art of flirting has been mastered and body language finely tuned, these transferable skills can be applied to all areas of life.

Whether it's a snog under the mistletoe, a new ally at work or a bonus from your boss - make sure you walk away from this year's office Christmas party with more than a painful hangover.