By: Wilma Slenders
‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations. You and a guest have been invited. Are you obligated to attend? Should you bring a guest? How long do you have to stay? What’s the expectation for behavior? Is it okay to let your hair down or should you be reserved? How much of your true self do you communicate and share? Do you chat with everyone or just hang out with friends? All questions that you will need to answer!
Parties during the holidays go by different names – Christmas party, office party, holiday celebrations, New Year’s party… All of them can be career enhancing, limiting, or terminating. It’s your decision!
Do you have to be a saint or can you be a sinner?
Holiday parties are an opportunity for co-workers to get together in a relaxed social setting. It’s a time where everyone can take a bit of a break, eat and drink together (a fundamental social need), and get to know each other in a non-work setting. That doesn’t mean that leaders aren’t watching for misbehavior or inappropriate behavior, although they may be concerned as well as to how they are perceived.
Let’s address each of the questions above.
1. Are you obligated to attend?
No, you are not obligated to attend. HOWEVER, the organization has spent time, energy and other resources to put on the party to acknowledge its employees. As such, you should definitely think about attending.
If your company is small and the norm is that everyone attends, your absence will be noticed and noted. In this instance, you likely will want to attend, even if you only stay for a short while. If you REALLY don’t want to attend and don’t want to stay long, make up a white lie stating another competing engagement that you are absolutely required to attend. That will be a socially acceptable excuse for leaving early and likely won’t result in the judgement that you don’t want to be there. However, you probably don’t want to broadcast on Facebook that you spent the evening washing your hair or grooming your cat!!
In larger companies where it is easier to be anonymous, the expectations for attendance are typically not as stringent. However, you might think about the contacts that you might be able to make with senior executives in a more social, casual environment and the conversations you may be able to have that would otherwise be impossible.
One thing is for sure: if you RSVP for the event, show up! There is nothing worse for a company to have spent hundreds of dollars per person with only limited attendance.
2. Should you bring a guest?
This depends on the type of party, the norm, and who your guest might be. If the norm is to invite spouses and partners, then by all means invite your spouse or partner. If the trend is to attend alone, even for people who are partnered, then that might be a better option. There is nothing worse than a guest feeling like s/he has no one to talk with when party goers are inevitably talking about work.
If you are single and recently met someone but are unsure of introducing him or her to your work colleagues, attend alone. You likely have some friends at work who are in a similar situation as you, perhaps you can attend as a group.
3. How long do I have to stay?
If you have RSVP’d for the entire event, the expectation, unless you are gravely ill, is that you stay for the entire event. That doesn’t mean right until the bitter end, but to the time when the event could reasonably be deemed to be over.
If you are unable to commit to the entire event, let the organizers know that you only plan to stay for a part of the event, say, the cocktail reception and not the dinner. Your consideration will be appreciated because it will likely save money.
4. What’s the expectation for behavior? Is it okay to let your hair down or should you be reserved?
When it gets close to the holidays, most people get a bit antsy about ‘letting loose’ and having fun. While this is to be expected, the work holiday party is not the place to let your hair down. Certainly, be more relaxed, enjoy casual conversation, and have some fun. Being too reserved will make you appear like a ‘stick in the mud’ and being too boisterous, usually associated with excessive drinking, will make you look like an idiot. Neither one is good. If you like to have a drink or two, limit it to that. Going crazy is only acceptable when you are in a safe place with your friends. Also, leave the selfies at home!
5. How much of your true self do you communicate and share?
It is important to be authentic and yourself. However, the company holiday party is not the time to tell your boss what you really think of him or her, good or bad, or talk about personal issues and challenges that you are facing. Equally, you should not discuss your colleagues, regardless of their presence. It is a time to be light hearted, friendly, and have an enjoyable time.
6. Do you chat with everyone or just hang out with your friends?
Even though I mentioned attending with your friends if you are not bringing a guest, you can’t spend all of your time exclusively with your friends. It is important to circulate and meet others. This is a fabulous opportunity for you to get to meet people from other departments and at other levels. Who knows what kind of conversations you might have if you mix and mingle?
Most of these tips are common sense, but you’d be surprised how often common sense does not prevail in situations where there is a combination of booze, food and relaxed people in a holiday mood.
People let their guard and inhibitions down in these situations. You want to be the person who enhances, not limits or terminates their career at the holiday party.
What tips would you would like to share?