it’s your office holiday party!

I get a lot of mail full of angst about company holiday parties — do you have to go, can you make your employees go, why can’t they give you a day off instead, and so forth.

Apparently there are an awful lot of you who cannot stand your coworkers enough to spend an hour standing around with them eating frosted cookies and cheese balls. And there are a lot of managers who seem to be totally oblivious to that fact.

As a holiday gift to us all, here are some official rules of office holiday parties.

Holiday Party Rules for Employees Who Don’t Want to Go

1. If you want to skip it, skip it. Say you have a conflicting engagement and stop agonizing over it. It’s not like people don’t have myriad family and social obligations at this of the year that you can use an excuse.

2. But be aware that in some offices, these things are borderline mandatory. If that’s the case with yours, suck it up and make an appearance. Look at it as any other work obligation. But come late, leave early, and pass the time by talking to your coworkers’ dates, who will probably be grateful.

3. Read my past tips for surviving the office holiday party, where you find advice like “drink things in small glasses so you have a constant excuse to leave awkward conversations.”

4. Possibly start looking for a job with coworkers you like, who you want to eat frosted cookies with.

Holiday Party Rules for Managers

1. If you think the party is a treat for employees, make sure they see it that way too. 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.

2. Don’t expect people to read your mind. If there are work repercussions to not attending, be honest and tell people they’re expected to attend. But if it’s truly supposed to be for their 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. Don’t penalize people for not going, even just in your head.

3. If you are going to expect/require attendance, you really, really should try to hold it during work hours.


What have I missed?

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    "you really, really should try to hold it during work hours."

    AMEN! My employer has scheduled a holiday "sit down" dinner, at a restaurant far from our office building, on a Thursday night from 5-9 PM. I appreciate the treat, and I don't mind spending time with my colleagues, but four hours of dinner after a nine-hour work day when we all have to be at work again the next morning is too much. And I have a 45-minute commute home afterwards. I'd much rather have mid-afternoon snacks and drinks and then go home around the normal time.

    1. Anonymous*

      Togetherness should not be forced upon ever. If you like your co-workers and you feel that you will enjoy yourself at the dinner then you should attend and kindly and politely inform your your manager know that you have a long commute and will need to depart after dinner. Managers and Companies do not expect for you to stay to the very end it is understandable.
      I never fake to be anywhere I do not want to be. Call me rude
      but I like being comfortable and real. If I go to any function or event, t its because I like the people and how they host. Remember you never ever get the time or evening back.
      so if it is me being home with my kids eating pizza on a Friday night and decorating our tree on the same day of the company party believe me my kids win anyday of the year. Do what your heart tells you always. Never be forced to buy anyone a gif any day of the year. Be true.

  2. nuqotw*

    If you are the kind of employer that has a lot of people who have to work long hours, make sure that your employees have deadlines that actually allow them to come to the party if they want to. No one wants to go back to work at 11 pm.

  3. Deirdre HR Maven*

    Don't make attendees pay.
    Don't require a donation to a charity of your choice.
    Don't host it on a Friday or Saturday night if at all possible. Those nights are for REAL parties with REAL friends and family.
    Don't leave it open ended. Have an end time established so people who come because they should know that they can leave.

  4. Rebecca*

    All from real-life past holiday party experiences:
    – Don't require people to bring money, food, or gifts.
    – Don't insist on calling it the Christmas party and laugh at, roll your eyes at, or argue with anyone who doesn't.
    – Don't throw the party during a time where someone has to cover the phones or the front desk.
    – Don't tell employees that they're probably going to have to pay for the party next year, or that they're lucky they didn't have to pay for it this year. Even if it's true.
    – If you're not picking up the tab, don't have the party at a place that an employee can't easily afford.
    – If some people get to work on public transportation, don't have the party at a location unreachable by public transportation.

    (Four of these six were perpetrated by the same employer over the course of two years. I liked my coworkers just fine, but the managers…)

  5. kristina*

    Don't let your employees bring significant others one year, not allow it the next year, and not tell them SOs aren't allowed until after they've RSVP'd!

  6. Anonymous*

    Man, so many of these could apply to any kind of office celebration. We frequently have problems like this for going-away parties when staff leave.

  7. Anonymous*

    – Make dress code (i.e. formal, black tie) known more than a week in advance, especially if it is not being held at a venue that implies this dress code already.
    -If the party is on a Friday or Weekend, spouses/SOs should be invited.

  8. raskal*

    Holiday parties = a despised means of forced social interaction that ticks more people off than inspires into sober camaraderie.

    However the person with an busy trigger finger on a camera phone stands to make a mint….

  9. Anonymous*

    You forgot about the legal ramifications of forcing workers whose personal religious beliefs conflict with the celebrations of certain holidays, ie Jehovah's Witnesses, Jewish, Muslims, etc. It would be a mistake to try to force them to attend. You are setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

  10. work-is-not-a-frathouse*

    Let me also add: Make the festive occasion appropriate for your work team. It's one thing if a creative department has something at some loud, trendy club. However, just because Mr. Manager who Never Grew Up thinks that mandatory Jello-Shots at a bar with a double-entendre for a name are fun, doesn't mean that married folks in their 30's and 40's will be happy to be in such an environment.

    Also, be sure to make sure that all attendees can get home, and if they have to take a car or nonpublic tansportation home, HAVE THE COMPANY PICK UP THE TAB. Last year I was at an event that held at the edges of a large city, in a fairly isolated location. Management refused to pick up the taxi fees, which meant that many of us had a fairly dangerous walk to the nearest transit option. Mind you, this is when festivities wrapped up at almost 1 AM on a "school night," in a mandatory-attendance (we had to go) "no escape situation" (part of party was a boat tour). Needless to say, many of us felt trapped in many ways that night.

  11. Anonymous*

    I have been on both sides of the holiday party as a manager/planner and an attendee. I wholeheartedly agree. If you have a work holiday party, it should be on work time. We spend enough time at work with people from work because we are paid to do so, I don't want to spend after hours/my personal time chatting with Chuck from accounting. And a lot of times attendance is mandatory and not explicitly conveyed. So you must deal with attitude if you don't go. But in this economy of paycuts and hard times, it is frustrating to put on a party dress and stand around thinking, "wow, I would much rather have gotten a check for $200 than watch them spend all of this money so I could eat mini hamburgers and drink mojitos with the office president trying to be my friend." I wish staff could vote on whether to have a party or not. Often I think the answer would be not.

  12. Anonymous*

    Don't have it in a location that people can't leave easily, like the time my company did theirs on a dinner cruise.

  13. Anonymous*

    I think everyone has good comments. But one good point is that people don't necessarily hate their co-workers, but they are co-workers you don't necessarily have a lot in common or to talk about. People hate their managers. And in an atmosphere where alcohol is consumed there is always the danger of something happening or being said or being implied that doesn't seem so great the next day at work.

  14. nuqotw*

    I don't think it's about hating coworkers. It's quite possible that people who don't want to go to the party actually do socialize with their coworkers outside of work of their own volition. However, the holiday party seems like the grown up equivalent of parents making a play date for a kid. Just fine in 1st grade, completely weird and contrived at work.

  15. Anonymous*

    Don't have assigned seating at your holiday party (with one person designated as the "conversation facilitator"). Management came up with that idea last year and the result felt more like a seminar than a party.

  16. Anonymous*

    Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, in her wonderful book "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior"-

    The ideal office party starts before lunch, with an invitation issued by the boss.

    The exact wording of this invitation should be: "Why don't you take the rest of the day off?"

    Lois Gory

  17. Squad*

    Or what about planning an elaborate holiday party when you just told everyone that they have to take a mandatory 25% pay cut because things aren't looking so hot?

    That just happened to my dad.

    Go morale!

  18. Anonymous*

    Every year it's huge gossip fest here. I went to one and have avoided the rest. Now I just have to field all the thinly vieled jealous inquiries "oh WHERE WERE you last night? Everyone was asking if you were coming. Did something come up?"

    Yes. My evening came up, that I like to spend with my family.

  19. Amanda*

    I just got an e-mail from the fabulous party planner (who used to moonlight as a receptionist, but is too busy these days to answer the damn phone…) happily announcing that I've been chosen to participate in the 'Guess the Baby Picture' contest at the Holiday Party! Seriously, the free booze in so not worth it.

  20. Barbie*

    what are your thoughts on inviting employees who were laid off in February with no hope of coming back to work anytime soon? this is happening at my company. some employees who are still working feel as though this is not acceptable as they see the holiday party as a Thank You for their hard work during the year.

  21. Ask a Manager*

    Barbie — Wow. Are you saying that some employees feel that people laid-off earlier in the year should be barred from the holiday party? I'd be surprised if the laid-off people WANT to attend, but I can't imagine why the people still employed there would object to allowing them to come if they want to.

    These people lost their jobs –the remaining employees sound like they're being mean-spirited.

  22. Barbie*

    Yup – some employees do feel that way. But on a positive note – those laid off actually do want to attend and will. =)
    Its true – we are a small company, but there are some REALLY mean-spirited people here. Just not sure if someone should approach the nay-sayers about their feelings toward the decision – or just let them dwell in it. Nothing is ever easy.

    1. TAD*

      In my experience, it could be the people left behind have a feeling of “survivor’s guilt” for still having a job after the layoffs.

  23. Surya*

    I work in the corporate office and we have an annual Xmas party ( indoors ) and an out door summer party every year with about 2-3k employees from various offices across the town.

    Buses arranged from some of the bigger sites to the party venue, which is always in an easy to reach / leave location which will hold all of us together.

    No payment to attend, no penalties for not attending, 3 free coupons for alcohol ( buy more at your expense ). For Xmas party, differnet bands, different djs playing different music, dinner buffet, karaoke bar. The after party venues are pre-announced and entry is free up to a certain time.CEO/someone from the executive board make a speech, shake a leg and then leave.

    Most of us 'work from home' the next day. No meetings are booked for the next day before noon. No spouses, no significant others, definitely no children ( for any of our festivities).

    As they saying goes, if you cannot remember what happened,you had a good party.

    Our company canceled the Summer party this year as many people were being laid off and it didn't feel right, but thanks to facebook we organized an even bigger party ourselves :)

  24. Anonymous*

    Here's a good one! I work in a small office of about 15 people. The Christmas Party is at the boss's house on a Fri night after work. A week before the party the boss's wife said, "Why don't we do pot luck." Everybody was stunned and thought it was pretty tacky. When the boss's associate heard what we thought, we got a tongue lashing about being ungrateful and the boss didn't have to do anything for us and that you always take a hostess gift. Isn't there a difference between hostess gift and bringing the meal? Now, most are going out of obligation. The morale is very low and no one is in a very festive mood. Fingerfoods at the office would have been fine with me. On office time. Oh, and one of the managers said if a certain past employee goes (who dates a current employee) he's not going. Isn't the whole thing rediculous! HO! HO! HO!

  25. Anonymous*

    Here's a question: for pseudo-hourly employees, should we be able to bill this time if the party is held during work hours? We're consultants, & have to account for every .25 hour of our day. The Board has decided to have this thing during work hours this year (every other year it's been a nice dinner after hours). Now, not only are we not getting a fancy dinner, we're going to have to use up our comp time just to go, or work late on a Friday night to make up the time. Umm, thanks? Can I just opt out & keep working instead? :/

  26. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, please ask your boss how you're supposed to handle that. I have to assume they'll make an exception for how you bill the time if you point it out. (If they don't, they're asses.)

  27. sqrlzmom*

    I have three different bosses and am invited to "holiday lunches" for each boss, along with their managers. Everyone else is salaried except for me. I've never clocked out before, because it's lunch with my work group, and everyone else is getting paid for being there, so why shouldn't I? now another admin asst in the office is protesting my not clocking out because she is bitter about not getting invited to any lunches. I don't mind being docked the regular hour for lunch, but the extra 30-45 minutes really makes a difference on my already small paycheck. Suggestions?

  28. Anonymous*

    Nice, you are all negative.
    we had a Holiday Party here in Canada and all the staff were more than happy to meet Spouses of new employees and connect with those they met last year. It was not mandatory but they sure dis line up at the door and loved it.
    Sorry to hear you all hate your Managers and Co-Workers

  29. Anonymous*

    At our organization, the board usually gives us individual gifts, but didn't this year. Instead, they dropped a check off in the back room and said it was for "all the staff". The director didn't know anything about it. Also, some employees decided amongst themselves to use it for a holiday party at someone's home. They got to choose what platters they wanted to have-but others had no input at all. The party was posted on the board with "sign-ups" to bring what you wanted to. Certain people got the items paid for that they were bringing-others didn't. Still others were unable to attend.
    Was this fair, and should I have questioned it?

  30. MMG*

    I’m an introvert. I also don’t drink. Parties are miserable. All parties. Friends. Family occasions. Everything. I love my coworkers but that doesn’t matter when I’m absolutely loathing the party.

    People who like parties take it personally. They think you don’t like *them.* Or else you’d love the party! Because they would. They like parties. Ugh.

    So let’s use an analogy.

    Imagine that instead of being at a party, you’re standing in a cold rain, barefoot. Does it matter at all if you have pleasant coworkers to stand in the cold rain barefoot alongside you? No. Because the *circumstance* of having to stand in the cold rain barefoot is what’s making you miserable. Not the company.

    What is so unpleasant about parties? Well, for someone who doesn’t drink, being surrounded by those who are drinking is a bit like visiting a mental hospital. People start operating strangely. A mental patient might walk up to you, give you a socially inappropriate hug, and tell you that you’re their long lost daughter. Being the one sober person with the Pepsi in a room of drinkers is like that. Not. Comfortable. At all.

    Add to that an introverted personality. Studies have shown that introverted people as infants are highly reactive to their surroundings. They’re not shy, they just get overstimulated. As they get older, they withdraw from too much stimulation to cope with being more easily stirred up. I’m very friendly, entertaining and talkative — and parties are too much. I’m exhausted and wrung out within twenty minutes. Sometimes fifteen, depending.

    During enforced happy hour with a well-meaning boss who wanted to “draw his assistant,” I used to sit on the bar stool fantasizing about being back at my desk, quietly wrapping up my day, checking off my to-do list and preparing for Monday.

    Having the party at the office during office hours would allow me to step in, have some cake (I like cake), chat with people a bit, and step away and get back to what I love, which is doing my job.

  31. Rachel*

    There’s a reason you get paid to spend all day at work. And it’s that same reason that makes people like me not socialise with those people we get paid to spend time with all day during out free time, when we are not getting paid to put our employers’ choices first.

    For any bosses/managers that are incapable of understanding this simple concept and insist on portraying our lack of enthusiasm for forced, awkward solcialising at work as “hating our colleagues” or “not being team player”, I say this : grow up. Seriously. Re-portraying an adult choice not to spend time with you as anything other than another adult exercising what is supposed to be their free choice makes you look like a 15-year-old boy at a school disco whose ego can’t handle it when a girl doesn’t want to dance with them. If your staff say “no” to the Christmas Party that you firmly believe is so much fun, then just let it be their “loss”, and go begging for them to turn a “no thankyou” into a less polite refusal.

  32. Anonymous*

    I’ll only go if I damn well feel like it. If there’s a direct or indirect penalty for not going then I don’t want to please people like that

  33. linda*

    i’m sorry, but i disagree with nearly everyone here. what is wrong with a boss having a holiday party where everyoine can, presumably, manage to get along with each other for one or two hours? i do agree it should be during work hours, which is what my office does. if someone doesn’t want to attend then they can stay at the office and work, which some do. my biggest beef, however, is that the people who don’t come are the biggest complainers that the office environment sucks, that people don’t get along with each other, that so and so acts childish. does it occur to anyone that doing something social with your co-workers might be a cure? it’s a relatiely small office (25 people) and no, people do not already do things socially with one another. out boss is difficult to tell the truth, but the boss is only one person among many that the employee has to socialize with at the party.

  34. linda*

    let me also add that snubbing the boss isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do, even when a party is not mandatory. it’s best to go along to get along especially when you can finesse it with the investment of only one hour of your time.

  35. schmitty*

    “Our office” decided to order an expensive lunch from a nearby restaurant. We all work in the same space and it is during office hours. I am angry that I feel forced to spend money I don’t have on a lunch I don’t want to eat with people I don’t want to spend any extra time with. That or lie. Comfortable with neither.

  36. sammi*

    Bah Humbug!
    My boss tells me to do a Pot Luck Holiday Party this year, and the firm which has 4 partners tells me they will only pay for 2 main food dishes and remaining 4 employee will have to bring the rest of the food and decorations…Well, can you imagine the reaction I am getting from the staff. It is especially hard for me, when I know that these same 4 Partners go out to lunch everyday and charge their lunch at very nice restaurants everyday using the firm credit card. Yet the firm can’t afford to pay for a holiday party as a thank you to their staff of 4 for all their hard work throughout the year…Just to let you know, at the end of the year the 2 Senior Partners get their big distribution checks of $50,000 each and the other 2 junior partners get $10,000 each and in addition to that all 4 partners have their car payments, car insurance, cell phone bills paid by the firm. Yet the workers get a pot luck holiday party, no yearly raises and a $100 at the end of the year as a bonus. Seems very wrong to me.

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