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Can You Skip the Holiday Party? (And Other Seasonal Questions)

Topics: Career Advice
holiday parties
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Office holiday parties give us the chance to enjoy ourselves and blow off a little steam. However, enjoying ourselves too much could be professionally damaging.

It can be difficult to navigate holiday party do’s and don’ts. So, I spoke with Holly Caplan, author of Surviving the D**k Clique: A Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Male Dominated Corporate World to get a little insight into how to get the most out of the office holiday party experience this year.

PayScale: What are some of the potential advantages of attending an office holiday party? How can workers maximize the opportunity?

Holly Caplan: It’s a great chance to bond with your colleagues, because you’re not in your own work environment. You’re out of the office. You get to talk about things that are not work-related. So, it’s a great chance to get to know people on a personal level.

It’s also a good way to get to know their spouses. You don’t always get to know partners, and this is one of the only ways to get to meet them, typically. So, you get to know their families and their backgrounds a little, which helps you get to know them on a different level.

I’ve learned that translates well into the work world. When you head back to the office, there’s a different level of loyalty and trust because you know them a little better. It’s also a great networking opportunity. It’s a great way to meet new people from other departments, maybe people that you don’t have that reach with typically, you can meet them at these parties. Again, that can translate well into the working world when you go back to the office.

PayScale: How about potential pitfalls? What should employees try to avoid at their office holiday parties?

Holly Caplan: The first thing is drinking. Drinking is the biggest problem when it comes to holiday parties. You don’t want to do something you’re going to regret.

Too often, that’s what happens. We all know that Saturday night holiday party means Sunday morning regret which equals Monday morning gossip. You don’t want to be a part of that because things like that tend to stick with you throughout your career.

There’s also the social media aspect. You don’t want photos of you doing something silly at your office holiday party on Facebook or Instagram. You’re still in a professional environment. So, just keep that in mind.

PayScale: So, when weighing all of the benefits and potential risks, would you recommend that workers attend their holiday party? Or, is it okay to skip it?

Holly Caplan: Those are great questions. I think it really depends on the culture of the organization.

I come from a culture of partying, with pharmaceuticals and medical device, it’s like that. With other companies, other firms, it’s not that way. So, it depends on the culture.

But, I think that the decision is up to you and I think that you can say no, especially this year. So, if you don’t feel comfortable, and if it feels all right within your company’s culture, it’s perfectly all right to politely decline.

I think that if you do decide to pass on the party, it’s a good idea to offer another option. You can say, “OK, I’m going to pass this year, but I have a great idea for next year or for another group bonding activity at another time.”

So, if you do pass on it, offer up another way to get everyone together, and offer to take the lead on it. This shows that you’re engaged and that you’re innovative. And, those other ideas that you have might make other people really excited and help others feel comfortable participating.  

PayScale: Offering to take the lead on an alternative is a great idea. Would you recommend that people make an excuse for not to going if they decline?

Holly Caplan: I think people can just decline simply. I don’t think you need to make an excuse. Especially in light of everything that’s going on right now in the country, maybe they don’t need to offer any more words then, I’m going to pass.

PayScale: Great. So, if workers do decide to attend, how can they prepare in order to really get the most out of the experience?

Holly Caplan: There are a few things that can really help. First, this may sound kind of silly, but prepare your spouse or partner, for two reasons.

First, this can be a networking event for you. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a chance for you to get to meet people you haven’t met before. So, tell your spouse, hey look, we’re going to go talk to Bob from IT, and then I want to talk to Shirley from marketing, I haven’t gotten to know her very well. So, kind of let them know what your plans are. It’s good to prepare your spouse so you two can be on the same page.

Another thing to do is to prepare your spouse with the idea of a three-drink maximum. You want to have a good time but not go overboard. It’s still a professional event.

PayScale: Thanks so much. There are some great ideas here. Is there anything else you’d like to add to the conversation before we wrap up?

Holly Caplan: There is just one other thing. There’s something new called the bystander intervention. You know, we go to holiday parties and we see that maybe Tom is just wasted and he’s heading over to talk to the boss’s wife.

Well, rather than watching the train-wreck occur and just gossiping about it, companies are now creating what they’re calling the bystander intervention. So, if you see something, like if you see Tom just going down the wrong path, pull him aside. Give him a glass of water.

And, the thing about this too is it gives HR a safe place to talk about it. A friend of mine in HR says that the week after the holiday party is the busiest week of her year. So, if you create that environment for all of your employees and encourage taking care of each other, then that won’t happen.

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