“required” to attend the holiday party?

A reader writes:

We have one employee who is not interested in attending our annual holiday party. We only have 3 employees; the other 2 are coming, and several of our clients and other business associates are coming. Is there anything I can do as a manager to suggest that the employee consider his actions? I don’t want to tell the employee that he is expected to attend, but by not coming he will offend myself, my partners, his other co-workers, and possibly our clients (they will at least ask where he is, and it will be odd or uncomfortable).

I understand that you don’t want to be in the position of requiring employees to attend something that’s likely intended as a morale-building treat, but because you’ve invited clients and business associates — and because you’re a small company, meaning that the clients and business associates will likely outnumber employees — in many ways this is a business function.

The employee, on the other hand, is likely thinking of it as a party, not a business function, and thus feels as free to decline the invitation as he would any other social invitation. Clearly there are work repercussions to him not attending, so I think you should be honest with him: Tell him that this is a business function and it will reflect poorly on him if he’s not there.

If you don’t want to require him to go, you can tell him it’s his choice — but at that point, he’s likely to feel pressured into going and may resent being told it’s his choice when it’s clear you really expect him to attend. So if you make it optional, I think you have to be genuine about it — i.e., don’t penalize him (even in your own mind) for not going.

Companies usually hold these events because they believe they build employee morale — but it’s important to take a look at whether they actually do. I once worked at an organization that threw numerous “social” events for the staff. Despite ostensibly being parties, we were clearly expected to show up, and we heard about it if we didn’t — and it made us not appreciate the parties at all. If you have staffers who just don’t enjoy these functions, requiring their presence under the guise of giving them a treat isn’t going to build morale; it’s going to hurt it. I think the answer is to be honest — if there’s a business purpose, be honest about that and require attendance. But if it’s truly supposed to be for the staff’s enjoyment, accept that some people won’t show up because they don’t enjoy such events (or would rather spend their off hours doing something else), and be okay with that.

Anyone else have thoughts? I suspect it’s a hot topic.

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. BG*

    I can’t stand some of the people I work with, and work functions are torture for me. I dodge them at every oppourtunity, accepting the fact that those who get together after work will have a closer relationship with each than they will with me.

    Add to this the fact that my work has a BIG drinking culture and I don’t drink alcohol, and there is not much incentive to get me down at the pub after work.

    We don’t really do Christmas parties, but I don’t mind attending more general work functions because I know there will be others there I can chat to without being pressured to drink.

    I guess I’d suggest pointing out to him that the customers and you will miss him at the Christmas party. If you do it in a sad way, not in a “I’m trying to pressure/ guilt you into coming” way then maybe he will come.

    But when it really comes down to it, you can’t force it.

    Have a great party!

  2. passing thru*

    Obviously, no one has even considered the respect for ones way of worship. Some Christians don’t celebrate holidays for reason of conscience

  3. GeekChic*

    Oooh, this is a hot button topic for me. I don’t attend office functions unless they are mandatory or I am the one that is supposed to be hosting – especially around the holidays as I’m not Christian nor do I drink and it gets old having to “defend” both things. As well, I have a life outside of work that I prefer to be living.

    Fortunately, the one place I worked where there was the occasional mandatory function also paid us to attend because we were working (after all – it was mandatory). So – to the original poster: either it is a party (and thus optional) or it is work (and thus not, and the employee should be compensated), it isn’t both.

  4. The Engineer*

    Any event you invite clients to is a business function. It would be foolish to view as otherwise.

  5. Esther*

    As someone who did not attend my company’s holiday party (with my boss’s permission), there are several concerns that this person may have:

    1. If it is really a Christmas party (specifically), this can be a serious issue for people of a different (or no) religion.

    2. If the setting is going to involve drinking – this can be uncomfortable for many people.

    3. If no spouses were invited (as was the case with my company’s party) – especially when combined with the drinking aspect, this could make someone uncomfortable or be against their beliefs.

    Any of the above may also be concerns for the business clients that were invited, so the company may want to be sure that the setting will truly be appropriate for business.

  6. Evil HR Lady*

    I would rather stick pins in my eyes than attend a “work” party outside of work hours.

    Best holiday party I ever had was at a fancy-dancy restaurant for lunch. Lunch was from about 12:00-1:30. We had been told that we had to go back to the office after the lunch.

    Instead, the big boss (head of HR) said, “Everybody go home!”


    This sounds like a business function, should be labeled as such and management should not pat themselves on the back for throwing a “party.” Blech.

  7. class-factotum*

    Yep. The last thing I wanted to do when I was employed was spend my free time at work, which is what a work party is. If you want to force people to attend, do it during work hours. Otherwise, don’t do it at all.

    (I worked at Ryder in Miami for a year. One of the VPs there had a Christmas party at his house — after hours — attendance required — spouses not invited — and the employees had to pay $25 apiece to attend. I heard the food was lousy.)

  8. Anonymous*

    As a very low run, hourly employee. I silently and deeply resent the “parties” through out the year.

    Not only am I expected to attend these events.

    But as an assistant, I am expected to provide my boss the same excellent support in running the party, that I provide durning the day.

    Except these “parties” are never durning work hours and I am unpaid.

    I would refuse to go, but they have impiled that non attendance would be remembered in my preformance review.

  9. Anonymous*

    I don’t enjoy works social events, and so don’t attend them. If I was ever ‘required’ to attend one by an employer, I’d happily fight that one in tribunal, and would win; here is the news – you cannot compel your employees to enjoy your social company, and foolishly trying to force them to attend only highlights the reasons why the probably don’t want to socialise with you in the first. One of your three employees doesn’t want to come; get over it, and move on.

  10. Cara*

    Our company party starts at 3:00 until 9 pm and the company is providing the transportation I have an employee who begins work at 8 am and is complaing that we all (34) employees passed on our lunch hours becasue the company is still paying us for an eight hour day. This employee quoated the lunch hour law to me in an email. Can I pay her for only the hours of production and pay the rest for an 8 hour day?

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