Do I Have to Go to the Office Holiday Party?

An HR expert explains how attending can boost your career — but also, what to do if going is just plain out of the question.

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Ah, the annual company-wide holiday party, where any semblance of professionalism between your colleagues goes out the window and that one person from finance, without exception, drunkenly professes their undying love for their coworker before crying and passing out on the bathroom floor.

Sounds… uncomfortable. But is not attending a viable option, or one that has the potential to hinder your career progression? According to HR expert Terry Petracca, there are a couple of things to consider before playing hooky. 

For one, being someone who regularly skips out on after-hours events could put you in a better position to skip the holiday party, too. “Good for you for setting boundaries between the workplace and personal space,” Petracca reaffirms. “In your case, you’ve made a conscious decision that your support of your colleagues ends when you leave the office.” Since your colleagues probably already expect you to pass up on the extracurricular things, you should have less explaining to do when it comes to missing out on the holiday party.

The second thing to consider is the scale of the party itself. “If the holiday party is a big, boisterous event — large venue, alcohol, food, dancing — I don’t think anyone is going to miss you unless you’re a senior executive and attendance is basically mandatory,” Petracca explains. “Your colleagues may try to guilt you into attending, but you should reaffirm that after-hours events aren’t your thing. If they’re still pressuring you, lie and tell them you’re not giving up your [INSERT EVENT HERE] tickets.”

“However,” Petracca continues, “if the holiday party is more of an intimate affair, you need to think twice about not attending. This type of holiday party is really a celebration of the company’s successful year. It’s much more business-oriented than an excuse to get drunk, and you may miss some insights about the company’s future direction if you’re not there — as well as some new opportunities for yourself in the new year. So grit your teeth, consider it a required business function, and whatever else you do, don’t miss it on principle.”

Just try your best to avoid that person from finance until they take their annual bathroom-floor nap.