how to survive your office holiday party

After a hiatus during the pandemic, office holiday parties seem to be back – and with them, questions about how to navigate them: Are office parties optional or just “optional” (i.e., are you really expected to attend)? Is it okay to bring a date or is it better to go solo? How much drinking is safe, if any? What are you going to talk about with these people for several hours while you frantically eat cookies and down overly sweet punch?

At New York Magazine today, I answer everything you might want to know about office-part etiquette to get you through the evening and still have your reputation intact the next day.

{ 225 comments… read them below }

  1. rollyex*

    Good list.

    I’d add (maybe it’s in there) – circulate a lot or stand in a place that many people see you. That’ll help for when you skip it every other year or so.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      +1000. Make sure as many people as possible see you in as short a time as possible.
      Then you can leave!!

    2. Nesprin*

      When you arrive, do a circuit of the room and see who’s there and what’s going on. Then pick where you want to go.

    3. Generic Name*

      Yep, you want to be seen attending. I attended a big company milestone celebration on the day before my last day. I super did not want to attend this party, but I was trying to leave on good terms. I made sure the important people saw me, and luckily the party was well-attended, so I could say, “I kept getting stopped by people to talk, I didn’t even make it across the room!!” if someone asked if I was there because they didn’t see me. I left just as the speeches started. I think I was there for maybe an hour and a half.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*


        Quarterly All Hands AND the Holiday Luncheon, after my notice was given. Really didn’t want to go. Went and made certain that the narratives being spun by the two upper management types (who were part in parcel why I was leaving) were gently and politely corrected amongst those who mattered.

    4. Misty_Meaner*

      But… why? Honestly. I don’t get it. I cannot imagine any employer I’ve ever had taking a mental attendance and holding it against anyone who didn’t attend a HOLIDAY PARTY. The “see and be seen” thing is just so foreign to me. (In the figurative sense, not literally. I’m American.) Our department has plenty of opps to network: Happy Hours, Promotion Parties, Retirement/Going Away Lunches, etc… and of course, Holiday Parties. But there has NEVER been ANY pressure or expectation that “YOU WILL BE THERE, OR ELSE” that I’ve seen in my 25 years. So…. odd to me. It really must be industry/acadamia/whatever dependent and I’ve just never stumbled into it.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Conversely, I’ve seen it done in two separate fairly small offices.

        In the first, the boss flat out asked me why I was not there.
        In the second, the boss referenced the non attendance in a completely non-related context that gave me a ton of pause because the two topics were not related.

      2. Phony Genius*

        I suppose under certain circumstances, when they’re deciding who gets the promotion, they may select the one who appears to be more of a “team player,” and this is one of the things they may remember.

        1. Smithy*

          Absolutely this.

          I do think that where you start to see more subtle or overt pressure campaigns by supervisors or bosses, is because unlike a lot of other networking events (happy hours, milestone event parties) it can often be the most expensive event paid for by an employer all year. Having staff “show up and have fun” being a key metric of that event being a success, can then turn into middle managers being put under pressure to have their team show up.

          I think how this gets communicated down the chain can become confusing – either deliberately or unintentionally. Some team leads will think if they just say it’s critical for leadership optics to show up, then some people will still not show because they don’t care. And then other team leads genuinely won’t get clear guidance, they’ll just know that not having a good team turn out reflects badly on you.

          However this actually works out, I do think the end result is the same. For places where the holiday party matters – showing up is a tick in the column of being a good team player and not, is a tick against it.

      3. Kelly*

        I’ve worked at a couple poorly run small businesses that think “the beatings will continue until morale improves” and would consider not attending the holiday party to be a massive slap in the face. It’s very much “you need to appreciate our weak show of appreciation OR ELSE.”

      4. AnotherOne*

        my dept is sorta known for people not attending work social events (myself and my supervisor are the noted exceptions.) but the holiday party is one that our boss is very clear that he wants people to attend unless they REALLY can’t. like outside of work commitments- you are home sick or your child is sick or your parent is sick and needs you. (i.e. work is not an excuse this one time.)

        that said- it is held during the day and no one is expected to stay past 5pm.

        plus, unless you opt to participate in the yankee gift swap there is no cost involved. (I make it my goal to spend as little money as possible on my yankee gift swap present without it looking like I spent $10 and not $25. i just like the added challenge.)

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Ah see, at my last two jobs the “party” cost $65 and $80, respectively. I did not feel even a little bad about opting out, knowing that it was intended to cover the food (most of which I could not eat) and open bar (I do not drink much at all).

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            That is awful that not one, but two separate companies made you pay for the privilege of attending a holiday party that’s supposed to be for the improvement of company morale.

      5. Bast*

        Some companies are oddly punitive about these things. I worked a job where regular after hours events were held, include Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, and it would absolutely be held against you if you didn’t attend, and even factored into your raise. The reasoning would be that you weren’t a “team player.” I don’t think it SHOULD matter, but unfortunately in some companies it does.

        1. rollyex*

          As long as they’re upfront and it’s a time you’re normally working and are being paid, that’s it. It’s called “work” for a reason. Also stupid, but if you’re being paid, do it.

          1. Anti Social Socialite*

            You think people are getting paid to go the holiday party? Dream on.

            (If I was, maybe I’d consider actually going)

            1. rollyex*

              “You think people are getting paid to go the holiday party?”

              Yes, when they’re during working hours. Some are. Pre-covid my org started them at 3:30 or 4pm (workday officially ended at 5pm.) Then it continued for another hour.

            2. Seashell*

              I had to attend a (ridiculously huge and fancy) 1st birthday party for my boss’ kid, because I was required to work on Saturdays and it was held during work hours. If it had been at any other time, I would have claimed a prior obligation.

            1. PhyllisB*

              What does this comment even mean? I’ve seen this used here before, and I’ve never understood it. It sounds condescending.

              1. Zudz*

                Short answer: It means you’re being regarded as pitiably naive. It’s… yeah, it’s pretty condescending.

          2. Bast*

            These were after hours events. We were not being paid to attend and “somewhat mandatory attendance at company drinking parties” was most definitely not mentioned when hired.

      6. C.*

        I totally agree. It’s exhausting on every level. I’m seen on my team as social, warm, friendly, approachable, and funny, and even I don’t want to go to our office party. I don’t get why not going to ONE THING could be seen as being disengaged or removed from the team. The “not mandatory… but mandatory” element tells you everything you need to know about them.

      7. Beth*

        I actually think that all workplaces are places where it lowkey matters whether you attend things like the holiday party. Sure, there are some organizations that make it literally mandatory and you’ll be punished for not going, and that’s weird.

        But even in organizations where it’s officially optional, people will still notice if you don’t come. That’s human. And being seen to not come to things is a disadvantage, even if the thing was optional. People are more likely to offer promotions, interesting projects, and other advantages to the person who’s been around more–even if they aren’t thinking of it that way. They communicate with that person more smoothly because they’ve spent more time chatting, they feel warmly towards that person because they’ve talked about their kids/hobbies/life stuff, they feel that person is reliable because they see them all the time.

        Even if it’s completely subconscious, a lot of people will favor colleagues who routinely come to at least a lot of the optional stuff. I think that’s what actually makes people feel pressured to go, most of the time, and I think they’re right to feel that way.

        1. Hohundrum*

          Eh…I do this is industry specific. My workplace is very, hmm, structured about how projects, raises, and bonuses come about. I think because it’s a nonprofit/cultural institution with ties to government, they really do not get to pick and choose who gets to do what. Plus everyone knows everyone else is broke, including the institution as a whole, so people never really push about attending extra things. I have some very antisocial coworkers who have gotten the same kinds of opportunities and benefits as the social ones. I hear what’s you’re saying about subconscious bias, my IME not attending extra events has never been penalized, it’s how you work with coworkers on actual projects that comes up when talking about who is a team player. Also for us the holiday party is a workday thing because we don’t have the money to like a rent a place extra, it’s pretty lowkey so if you’re working that day in office you go and get free lunch, and if you’re not no one cares.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          I don’t know. I think this is very industry and office specific. I do think going to optional things can be beneficial when it comes to promotions, but I think in lots of industries, that is going to mean optional work related activities.

          In my job, for example, I cannot imagine any teacher being promoted because they went to the staff party. For one thing, our last principal only ever showed up for part of it, so she wouldn’t even have known who showed up later. (Our current principal does attend the whole thing.) For another, when it comes to applying for principalships or deputy principalships, people often end up moving to another school anyway and obviously, the board of management there would have no way of knowing which candidates had attended their staff parties. And even when it comes to the middle management positions…well, I could see in a dysfunctional school, a principal thinking, “hey, this person is great craic on the nights out. I really enjoy his/her company. I think I’ll promote him/her,” but that would be a pretty badly run school. In a well-run school, those roles tend to go to people who have already taken on additional responsibilities and who actually apply for them.

          Yeah, it is true that people will feel more warmly towards those they’ve spent time with, but I don’t think doing so at the staff party is going to mean more than doing so at the watercooler/in the staffroom/staff canteen. Again, using my job as an example, I feel the latter is generally more beneficial because that is where the deeper conversations take place. I did have one pretty intense conversation with a colleague at a staff party but that was a colleague I was close to already and with whom I had already shared many deep conversations.

          Honestly, I don’t even know for sure who goes to our parties. I certainly know people who do, but I couldn’t say for certain that any specific person wasn’t there because we generally go for a meal around 4 or 5pm, then for drinks at 8pm or 9pm and I usually leave around 9 or so, so I couldn’t tell you who comes along later. And I think that is true for many people. Like I said, our previous principal used maybe turn up for an hour and then leave.

        3. allathian*

          It depends a lot on the organization. It’s perfectly possible to network both professionally and socially, and talk about both work and non-work things during working hours, if the workload allows it. If you’re so understaffed and overworked that employees have to keep their nose to the grindstone all day and barely have time to gobble down lunch, never mind chat about non-work stuff, then that’s the problem.

      8. DesignDisasters*

        I literally got yelled at today for not attending the Thanksgiving party. It was because we’re (intentionally) short staffed and I was trying to get ahead of a big project I’d need to complete when we got back from PTO. Apparently that deserves scolding and not praise. I need a new job so bad.

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      My theory, back when I had to deal with these things, was that my boss and my boss’s boss were the only ones that mattered. So I would show up, make a beeline for my boss, engage in a few minutes of idle chit-chat, then go find my boss’s boss and repeat the exercise. After that I generally quietly snuck out and went home.

    6. Hohumdrum*

      I had to skip the last few years of holiday parties which I was actually quite disappointed about, but then I work in nonprofits so I’m still happy to be invited anywhere that has free food involved. Never lost that college mentality of “I’ll attend any club meeting that has free pizza” lol

      But also I do genuinely like socializing broadly and my coworkers specifically, and like I said I skip events all the time when I have to and never get penalized for it in anyway, which I’m sure helps.

  2. Enough*

    Re:drinking. If you are going to be there less than an hour non -alcoholic drink. Up to two hours 1 alcoholic drink. And drink non-alcoholic in between alcoholic drinks.

      1. Escaped a Work Cult*

        I have hear that or a gin and tonic as the best options for metering alcohol at work functions.

      2. Angstrom*

        For a holiday look, a Cape Codder with no alcohol works nicely.(cranberry juice, club soda, slice of lime)

      3. Lab Boss*

        That’s what my sister’s go-to was, even before she was of age to drink- we still laugh about the bartender at a wedding trying to subtly tell her he was willing to serve her a G&T, and her trying to convince him she REALLY didn’t want the G part of it.

      4. Critical Rolls*

        I have been know to ask for a rum and coke, hold the rum. In circumstances where you may not want to discuss whether or why you’re not drinking, all you need is the booze cup instead of the soda cup.

        1. Lab Boss*

          If you’re feeling frisky, get a Cuba Libre hold the rum. That twist of lime does a lot to elevate the coke.

          And you make a great point about the drink cup. In a perfect world nobody would be questioned or pressured to drink- but I’ve told a lot of the college students I work with, “Just drink from the same cup as everyone else and nobody’s going to question exactly what’s in it.”

    1. Bruce*

      At a former employer I heard about the wild parties they >used< to have at the office, they had been toned down before I joined. What happened is a staff member drove home very drunk and caused a serious accident, maybe even fatal. Moderation is a good idea…

      1. Bruce*

        Of course back in the 80s I was working with a team where about 30% of the guys had DUI convictions, one had to sleep at the county jail and a couple had lost their licenses. They could be seen as bad influences or as instructive case studies, I tried to not emulate them…

  3. TootsNYC*

    re: networking.
    One tactic can be to introduce someone from your department to someone from another department.
    Or think of someone you Slack with often but never see in person; see them out to say hello

  4. justanobody*

    Nope, I’m still not going. It’s at my boss’s house on a Saturday afternoon and will be a two-hour roundtrip drive.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        So sorry to hear about your possibly-COVID-better-isolate-until-the-test-gets-back. Feel better soon!

  5. Amber Rose*

    We had ours last week. I basically had fun. Only minor disasters overall. I got very drunk and then stopped drinking and danced until I wasn’t drunk anymore. Other people did not do the second half of that. xD

    I will not be volunteering my laptop and Spotify account next time though. =P

  6. Jeez Louise*

    This always gives me flashbacks to ad agency parties in the 90s/00s. No spouses, free booze, free taxi home, drunken colleagues, some guy always naked on the dance floor, inappropriate behaviour, all approved and encouraged by management. I mean I loved the fun parts, but it took till Me Too (and me growing up) for it to click just how many lines were crossed and how little recourse you had to speak up about it. Yeah, it shouldn’t have been me or any other woman in the office pushing off advances while colleagues looked on like “oh I guess it’s her turn this year!”

    I am so glad things are changing. Anyone have experiences that they look back on now and think, um, wow, that wasn’t right…?

    1. NotTheSameAaron*

      Remember that closets are for supplies, not hookups.

      But just in case, if you have to get something, knock and wait before entering.

    2. Wednesday*

      …casually throwing that “some guy naked on the dance floor” into the usual list of work party happenings, lol.

      1. Can't Sit Still*

        We always had at least one streaker at our summer picnic, but people kept (most of) their clothes on at the holiday party. However, there was a whole lot of grinding on the dance floor, such that being clothed didn’t really matter much. I am so glad those days and that company are behind me.

    3. Vanilla latte breve*

      Also worked at an ad agency many moons ago. Ours was pretty tame in comparison. One year, two employees hooked up at the party, ended up dating and getting married (and subsequently divorced a few years later).

  7. another fed*

    I’ve been telling law students to remember they don’t need to drink, and no more drinks than noses is a good rule of thumb.

    1. Jessica*

      So if your vision is blurry and everybody has an indeterminate number of noses, it’s a sign that drinks are now unlimited?

      1. Angstrom*

        If they’re all blurry, it’s still one big nose. ;-)

        There’s always someone who thinks “open bar” means “no limits”, even at a work function. It rarely ends well.

        1. rollyex*

          “I’m not drunk. Being drunk is when you look at those two cars and see four of them.”

          “There’s only one car.”

    2. pst14*

      My dad always told me that when in doubt, stick to non alcoholic beverages. If you are going to drink, stay at least one drink behind your boss/immediate supervisor.

      1. Karo*

        Make sure you factor in your boss’ alcohol tolerance on that last one. My last boss could drink a truly impressive amount and staying one behind her would’ve been a disaster for me.

  8. mlem*

    I’m opting out this year primarily because I’m still masking, and this year’s event is even more food-focused than usual; sitting there in a mask while everyone else eats is awkward.

    (My secondary reason for opting out is that they’re bringing back “holiday” music, which they’ve confirmed means they’re going to play Christmas music — but they offered to toss in an Adam Sandler song as well when I asked. Which … thanks but no thanks. The decade-plus when we did an end-of-year gathering without Christmas music was quite nice.)

    Management purposely delegated this year’s party to non-management in part, they’ve said, so that no one will feel pressured to attend. How true that is remains to be seen; I fortunately have the capital not to care.

  9. Yup!*

    Can I say as an introvert that attending a party can be hard enough, but doable, except when the mandate is Do Not Sit With Your Friends, Please Mingle, Don’t Talk About Work, it’s quasi torturous?

    A holiday party is work, yes, but it’s supposed to be a kind of thank you and a way to just relax and enjoy. One party I went to had a manager policing people’s conversations to make sure we weren’t talking about our work projects. BUT I’M COMFORTABLE WITH THAT! Not everyone’s a party extrovert who works the room.

    1. L-squared*

      But the question isn’t necessarily are you comfortable, its how you are making everyone else feel. If people keep trying to steer the conversation to “anything but work” and all you want to do is discuss the latest project, then you are being pretty bad. If a group of introverts wants to all sit in a corner and discuss work, have it it. But once you get the sense that others don’t want to, then drop it.

      1. Yup!*

        If three people are comfortable speaking about a project, however, no one should come by to police the conversation. I don’t mean we can only talk about work–but talking about work with colleagues is natural and there shouldn’t be someone going around directing people on what we can and can’t discuss. Most people are intuitive and mature enough to understand the difference between “Hey, that project has been challenging” versus monopolizing a conversation with work.

    2. wordswords*

      I totally respect that as your preference, and as something that’s true of a number of people. But speaking as an introvert with an outgoing social mode, I wouldn’t call it an introvert/extrovert division. (It drains my reserves! I have to go recharge in solitude after! But it’s still genuinely fun for me to be in that mode. Meanwhile, I know more extroverted people who aren’t up for mingling, but can sit and talk to a small group long after I want to scream and hide in a cave from all the intense no-break socializing, because to me making cheerful small talk with a variety of people is less draining than that.) Introversion vs extroversion is about what you find energizing, not about how reserved vs outgoing you are.

      Your broader point about the fact that people should be allowed to have their own party styles and not be forced to mingle / not mingle / talk work / not breath a word about work / etc. is an extremely valid one, though, and I totally agree.

      1. allathian*

        I’m a chatty introvert, but I absolutely prefer being able to talk in small groups to mingling in a large room full of people I barely know. I suspect it’s got something to do with the fact that I’m horribly bad with names, and I feel awful when I don’t remember the name of someone I’ve worked with occasionally for the last 10 years. Mingling at conferences is a lot easier, because there people usually wear a name tag.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Sports. “How about those Ravens! You think they’ll make it to the Superbowl?” It works in nearly every setting. I have had that conversation at a swanky country club and standing at a bus stop in the middle of the night in a not-great part of town. If you are uninterested in sports, you can still manage it on a superficial level, which is generally all that is needed. We aren’t doing an analysis of last week’s game film here. I can hold a genuine conversation about baseball and football, but only fake it with basketball and hockey.

      1. Angstrom*

        Yup. Go to the NFL(or whatever) video page, watch the recent highlights for the local team, and you’ve got another topic in your small-talk repertoire.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I love sportsball! The Minnesota Ballboys are my favorite, I bet they’re going to the championship this year. Too bad about the pilot guy getting injured, I hope he’s back next season in time for the squad meetup. (I could not hold my own in a sports conversation, this is my level of fluency.)

    4. Smithy*

      I think part of the reason for giving the rules is to help people who aren’t typically comfortable at parties to think about before they attend how they might approach the situation.

      Not that you need to spend hours on writing out talking points and topics for discussion with colleagues, but beginning to think about it a little here and there in advance is a lot easier than hearing on the spot “oh no work chat, tell me the best thing you did last weekend!” And maybe your job has you swamped end of year, so last weekend all you did was work – but it can be helpful to have that running list in your mind of possible nonwork topics vs being surprised.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Take advice from Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice and “amuse [yourself] with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions” ahead of time.

  10. Anonforthis*

    I can honestly say I have not been to one company holiday party in the almost 20 years I’ve been with this organization. I don’t think of my coworkers as “family” and prefer to spend my off (weekend) hours with my own family. No one has batted an eye. I am now no longer attending my department gathering either, I am retiring next year, and have been a BEC with many of my coworkers because I’m just done with the bs. It’s also being held at a restaurant/bar, and I really don’t want to be on the receiving end of anyone’s obnoxiousness. I’ve had that experience before, won’t put myself in that situation again.

  11. A Girl Named Fred*

    The phrasing on number seven is really interesting to me – I’m sure it means “don’t let your +1 get in the way of your purpose for being at the party”, but phrasing the second half as not bringing “someone who sticks with you” caught my eye. When I attend my boyfriend’s end of year party with him, I always stick with him – because he’s the reason I’m at the party in the first place! Of course, I don’t stop him from talking to anyone or pull him away from conversations, and last year we did split up briefly because he wanted to go join a laser tag game and I didn’t, but other than that kind of thing I’m not going to walk away from the only reason I’m there.

    Like I said, I’m sure Alison didn’t mean anything bad by it, just thought it was interesting because the idea that I need to go stand by myself in a room of people I don’t know set my Introvert Compass to “Nope!” lol

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      My wife learned early in our marriage not to drag me to these things. I can just barely pull it off if I know people there. Drag me there and then remove me from the one person I know? I will rapidly end up sitting in the car. This is experience talking here.

    2. Trippedamean*

      Agreed. My husband and I are both introverts. We’re in vastly different fields, too. I would expect him to, say, talk to the other people near us or engage in conversation with those I’m talking to, but he would 100% not be there if it weren’t for me (and doesn’t want to be there anyway!) so the idea of sending him off to chat up people he doesn’t have anything in common with is weird.

      1. A Girl Named Fred*

        Absolutely! I make every effort to stay engaged in the conversations and remember things my boyfriend has told me about this coworker or that one so I can ask about them, but when I ended up on my own I definitely just wandered about the place for a bit to get some “alone” time and recharge before round two!

    3. There You Are*

      Whenever I’ve been a +1 and my partner is engaged in shop talk or says, “Wait here a minute, I need to go talk to X real quick,” I would find another +1 and say, “I don’t know anybody in here. How ’bout you?” and that usually started a pleasant, superficial conversation that filled in the gap until my partner (or theirs) was freed up.

    4. allathian*

      LOL indeed.

      I work for the government in Finland, and while our taxpayers are happy for us to enjoy most of the perks offered to private sector employees, including free coffee and holiday parties that the employer pays for, the one thing we’re very strict about is that any perks are provided for the employee only, never, ever a spouse (although last Friday was Bring Your Kids to Work Day, and the kids got a discount at our company cafeteria). Inviting spouses to work events just does not happen here, at least not in the governmental sector.

      The only work-related event I’ve attended as my husband’s +1 was when he got an invitation to the British Embassy for the Queen’s Birthday celebrations 15+ years ago. That was an once in a lifetime experience and I enjoyed it as such.

    5. Always Tired*

      I have several friends who tap me as their +1 to office parties. I am their extrovert friend who is in HR and and whose mother owns multiple etiquette books. I stick by them but often just smile and nod when they discuss topics I know nothing about, I charm managers with small talk, and I am really clutch when you have a coworker or three whose names you do not remember but it’s too late to ask again.

      The point being I absolutely stick to my friend, but I know my job as a +1 is to boost/facilitate the networking, not be entertained.

  12. Misty_Meaner*

    I find the “pressure” to see and be seen at Holiday Parties interesting. I assume it must be sort of industry dependent. Every company I’ve worked for has had a Holiday Party, often in January when the pressure is off, even, and I have in 25 years attended maybe … 8? And that was because that company gave out AWESOME door prizes: I got season tix to a Theme Park, a 60″ flat screen TV, a Kindle, Beats, etc.. Loved those parties! They’d have a “fortune teller” or a Monte Carlo theme, etc.. Lots of fun. Others were meh food, meh people. But not once did I EVER feel like it would hurt my career or my relationships w/ boss or peers if I didn’t go. I mean… it’s a PARTY. Not like I’m refusing to attend a training session or a mandatory XYZ Awareness Seminar. I wonder how much of the “I feel pressured to attend” is self-imposed, in all honesty.

    1. Hohumdrum*

      I think it absolutely is industry dependent. I know my work place doesn’t penalize people for not attending. I’m confident about that because I have truly had conflicts with the holiday party the last few years and it’s really never been an issue.

      But also my workplace parties don’t really match what people are describing here- it’s cultural institution/nonprofit, so no swanky second location or open bar or bonuses or fancy gifts or DJs or anything like that lol, I’ve only seen those kinds of holiday parties in movies. My experience of a workplace party is like they order food from a local favorite and maybe we do a cookie exchange in the conference room. It doesn’t have to be a hoopla to be more fun than just sitting at my desk writing programs, my bar is pretty low for that. It’s just nice to not have to pay for/plan a meal for that day, and they let us take leftovers home usually which is an extra bonus. I’ve never worked at a place with enough money for what people are describing here, and I think since the institution knows we’re all broke nobody gives anyone a hard time for having to pass on extracurricular non-work stuff. Not to be insensitive, but sometimes when I read people complaining about those kinds of work parties I am surprised people aren’t more grateful their work even has nice things to share, though I know it’s all relative and my workplace has plenty of benefits I take for granted because I’m used to it by now so I get it.

  13. Warrior Princess Xena*

    My office is usually pretty good about scheduling parties that at least partially overlap with work hours, but for some reason, the Big December party is always late in December, on a Saturday. I have a regular Saturday evening commitment that needs me in December particularly. So I will never be able to go unless they change the day.

  14. kjolis*

    We work remotely despite having an office. For the past 3 years, we’ve had a Zoom holiday party. I stare at a screen enough during the day; I cannot deal with another reason to get on Zoom. I’ll be taking myself out to lunch during the holiday party this year (and every year going forward) until the planners decide it’s worth having a party at the office.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I can say unequivocally that every Zoom ‘event’ I’ve ever been to has been terrible. Hybrid events are somehow worse. Just give everyone a $25 gift card and call it a day.

      1. kjolis*

        They give us a $20 grubhub credit (that expires after a week) so we can buy ourselves lunch for the Zoom party.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I agree, and in 2021 a friend of mine invited me to attend a Zoom Super Bowl event being hosted by a friend of hers with whom I am only a passing acquaintance, knowing that I absolutely do NOT watch football. Yes, I know many people (including her) watch only to see the commercials but I also HATE commercials so even the non-football part of the Super Bowl doesn’t appeal to me. (I don’t even care about the halftime show, sorry.)

        I had a Zoom holiday work party in 2020 and that was lovely, given what was going on at the time, but I agree that now that we can actually safely see other people in person doing social things like that on Zoom (especially for work) is pretty terrible.

  15. Warrior Princess Xena*

    My office is usually pretty good about scheduling parties that at least partially overlap with work hours, but for some reason, the Big December party is always late in December, on a Saturday. I have a regular Saturday evening commitment that needs me in December particularly. So I will never be able to go unless they change the day. Sigh. (My office is good about planning fun shindigs so I would be excited to go…)

  16. Jojo*

    A few years ago, I ended up working a big awards ceremony at my very large, well know company. Most of the other people working the event where HR. They spilled the Tea. They had so many stories about drunk executives at company functions, and explained that drinks are now limited at the awards because of wild things invitees did while drunk. Some of these stories were several years old, and not forgotten. It convinced me that a one drink limit is a good idea for company events. (Some of the stories were about drunk executives getting into fights with a vending machine while wearing only their underwear!)

  17. Lily Rowan*

    As always, grateful for my low-key office party that is during the work day and is half an awards ceremony.

  18. Governmint Condition*

    I would say Rule 1 (Go to the party for at least a little while, even if you don’t want to) does not apply to government workers and others who have to pay for their party. In such environments, you do not have to buy a ticket and attend a party that you don’t want to go to, and most government bosses will not care. The exception to this is if you are a commissioner or other highest title in your agency, in which case you are expected to make an appearance (and probably a short speech).

  19. Slow Gin Lizz*

    I want to add that on top of being careful who you bring to your work holiday party, plus-ones should be careful whose work holiday parties they attend. Otherwise they might end up unwittingly having some piano played at them.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        MINE TOO. The use of the word “at” as a preposition for the verb “play” is just gold. And as a musician myself I try at all times to refrain from playing my instrument at anyone.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      No, I like most of the people I work with and most of the people I’ve ever worked with. If I didn’t like them I’d be moving on to a new position a lot more quickly. Why do you ask?

      1. Dinwar*

        Because a LOT of these discussions treat colleagues as enemies and office parties as disasters waiting to happen. There’s very much a sense that folks are waiting for the bullet to hit the bone this time of year.

        I cannot imagine working in a an environment that gave me that attitude. If I can’t stand to be around someone for a holiday party there’s no way we could work together–the nature of my job has often put me in positions where my life was quite literally in the hands of my coworkers.

        1. Ismonie*

          Are you a woman? Because I’ve worked places where I like my immediate colleagues, but I don’t want to have to deal with inappropriate drunken behavior from those I don’t work with so closely.

          1. Dinwar*

            That’s exactly what I’m talking about, though. You’re planning for the worst. I cannot imagine spending a huge portion of my waking hours around people who I trust so little. If I can’t trust them to handle themselves appropriately at a party there’s NO WAY I would invite them to a jobsite.

            Maybe the difference is careers. I always have to consider whether I’d be willing to spend 8-10 hours a day, 5-10 days a shift (or more) with the person, and all my coworkers are making the same calculation. When the answer is “No”, people don’t tend to last very long.

            1. Ismonie*

              I’m planning for the worst because I’ve been sexually harassed at parties. The worst is reality for some of us.

              I’m not going to leave the legal profession or litigation because some men are sexist assholes. Ditto the military, when I was in. Your privilege is showing.

              1. Dinwar*

                Maybe it is, though I tend to discount the opinions of people who know nothing about me other than an online handle. But 1) the people who I know that have been sexually harassed (and I am included in that, by the way–men ARE NOT immune from this sort of behavior) don’t universally treat every situation as a potential battlefield, and 2) even if your reaction was universal among people who have been harassed this doesn’t explain the ubiquity of this attitude on this forum. I’m not the only one to point out the hostility towards treating coworkers as people–I’m not the first person today to do so here!!–and given the nature of the comments it’s obvious that a lot of this does not stem from the same trauma you endured.

                I doubt we’ll get anywhere with this discussion, though. You’ve found an excuse to disregard everything I say, and in my experience once someone finds such an excuse they stop attempting to listen with the intent of understanding, and only listen with the intent to find ways to further dismiss the other person.

                1. Obscene Clone Fall*

                  Men are most definitely not immune. I’m sorry it happened to you. It shouldn’t happen to anyone.

                  Because you know people that have not had the same response to a horrid experience as Ismonie doesn’t mean their response is invalid. You’re treading close to telling Ismonie how to feel and that’s not cool.

                2. Ismonie*

                  Where you have clearly listened thoughtfully to what I have to say about how women are treated in certain industries.

            2. I haven't slept*

              When the answer is “No”, people don’t tend to last very long

              Sounds kind of Mean Girl/popularity contest.

              1. Hohumdrum*

                Wait, to decide a work environment isn’t right for you because you don’t get along with your coworkers is being a mean girl?? Is that not part of what culture fit is?? What, it’s less “mean” to insist on working with people you hate so much that the idea of a holiday party with them sends you into rage than to just look for jobs with teams you get along with?? I do not understand that logic at all.

                If you have options on where to work, looking for teams that you find it easy to work with isn’t a popularity contest or a mean thing, it’s literally half the point of the interview process.

                1. I haven't slept*

                  I think you’ve missed a couple of the points of the objections to holiday parties.

                  For some people, socializing and small talk is hard work. Consider the person who is used to working with a small team and now is expected to mingle with the entire company that can number in the hundreds. Sure some people work with clients or the public and love it and that’s great. Not everyone does, or some function best in small groups.

                  The nicest person in the office who you might trust with your deepest secret might become a different person when they’ve had too much to drink. Even worse, bad behavior at an office party is often dismissed.

                  I don’t know how many people have said variations of this at this point: The objections to office parties (and team building activities, for that matter) are not generally about hating people! It is perfectly reasonable to expect co-workers to be pleasant and cooperative, not just grunt at each other when they interact. If you want to be friends outside of work, great! It’s not mandatory and it shouldn’t BE mandatory. People come to work with their own lives and their own stories and they aren’t required to share them with anyone else if they don’t want to. Enforced fun often isn’t and builds resentment and damages morale.

                  I specifically commented on the “people don’t tend to last long,” phrasing as Mean Girl because it came across to me as “if you’re not One of Us, then you can’t belong.” The phrasing, to me, went beyond culture fit and into Stepford Wives territory.

                  I’m a hiring manager and when I ask questions to determine cultural fit, I am asking about values and work styles, and experiences with past teams and manager. I’m not asking if they want to go to the office party or what they’d bring for a pot luck.

                2. hohumdrum*

                  @I haven’t slept
                  The comment Dinwar made was about what considerations HE makes for taking a job and whether he can stand his coworkers is one of them. Then he said he assumed they had the same thoughts about him. You described that as “mean girl behavior”. Nothing he said was about not hiring someone for not being fun at parties, or driving people out.

                  “When the answer is ‘No’ people don’t tend to last that long” is about people quitting because they hate their coworkers because working all day with people you actively dislike is hard on a person. It’s not a crazy reason to look for a job keeping in mind your compatibility with others on the team, lots do approach things this way. I do- if I hated being at work all day I wouldn’t last long, I would look at other job options. That’s not mean of me.

                  I’m unclear on why you’re explaining what you don’t like about holiday parties to me for, I’m not arguing for anybody to attend or enjoy them.

                3. I haven't slept*


                  I talked about why people don’t want to be forced to go to holiday parties because it generally has nothing to do with whether they like or dislike their coworkers.

                  I described one phrase as mean girl behavior and you’ve done nothing to change my mind. I also think the phrasing is snotty, cliquish.

                  Since either I’m failing to communicate in a way you understand or you’re not fully reading for content, I think it’s best we leave this here.

          2. Hohumdrum*

            I mean I’m a woman but I’ve never walked into an office party with the assumption I’ll have to fend off sexual harassment. It sounds like your office is particularly toxic because I do not think that is a normal expectation that all women just have about workplace socializing. I’m really sorry that you have to go through that so often, that sounds awful.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I think YMMV. Some people are totally fine working with people they don’t really like as long as the job gets done and they get their paycheck. I am not and you also are not and that’s fine too. And at a large company it’s entirely possible that there are people you don’t work with at all who you only see at the holiday party and sure, maybe you don’t like them, but since you only see them once a year it’s NBD.

        3. Hohumdrum*

          Yeah, I also get a little eyebrow raise at some of the attitude people show here about connecting with coworkers.

          I have coworkers I cannot stand but significantly more I really enjoy hanging out with and do in fact meet up with outside of work. Our work is collaborative and creative, so we kinda do need to enjoy talking together enough to actually effectively do our jobs. Also wrt to holiday parties specifically, I work in nonprofits so I’m broke and my institution is broke so genuinely I’m just excited they’re giving us free food and dedicated time away from work to chat.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Liking or not liking coworkers has had nothing to do, literally at all, with my refusal to go to holiday parties. Things that have mattered? Expensive tickets, food I can’t eat, alcohol I am not interested in drinking while everyone else is wasted, being expected to wander around and mingle to talk to people when I’m literally disabled and can’t (so I end up sitting in a corner by myself and everyone’s coats bored out of my mind), and the party taking place at a location public transit doesn’t go to (requiring me to rely on the office’s rented bus for transportation and meaning I can’t just leave whenever I want).

            1. Michelle Smith*

              Oh and I forgot – the party taking place in a party room at a bar or restaurant where there is loud music playing and I can’t hear conversations or myself think.

        4. I forget what I used to go by*

          Congratulations on having found a great place to work that ticks all the boxes.

          There are very few places like that. Hope that helps with the dominant attitude you’re perceiving.

        5. Irish Teacher.*

          I don’t think one has to dislike one’s colleagues to dislike parties. Parties are a particular activity that some people enjoy and others don’t, no matter how they feel about the people there.

          I think the difference is quite simply whether or not parties happen to be an activity one enjoys. I mean, whether one is working in a good environment or not is relevant too, as even people who enjoy parties probably won’t enjoy one with a load of jerks, but assuming decent colleagues that you get on with, then people who like parties will like partying with them whereas people who hate parties will not, just as people who like hiking will like hiking with colleagues they get on with whereas people who hate hiking will hate it no matter how much they like their colleagues.

          There are all kinds of reasons people hate parties. I think finding them boring is the main reason. It’s hard to have a proper conversation and hours on end of “so did you see the match?” “are you doing anything at the weekend?” gets really monotonous and when you are around people you like, it’s really frustrating because you want to have a proper conversation with them but you can’t because it’s too loud and there are too many other people around and you both feel like you can’t just spend too long talking to that one person. Another reason is that they get loud and a lot of people can’t handle loud environments for all kinds of reasons. And then there is a lot of drunkenness, which some people have issues with.

          Disliking parties doesn’t mean one dislikes the people at the party and honestly, the assumption in society that it does puts a lot of pressure on those who don’t enjoy them to pretend they do for fear of giving offence. Imagine if it was socially taboo to say you didn’t like say skiing or visiting museums because people would assume you must hate the other people going or else you’d want to do it with them.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            I hate parties because the masking is utterly exhausting. I have ADHD and do a lot of masking during work at meetings where my video needs to be on and that wears me out, but it makes my work with others go more smoothly so it’s worth it then. Keeping up a convincing mask for hours at a party with people I barely know? So, so tiring.

          2. allathian*

            Thank you for a great post on this apparently contentious subject.

            Louder for those in the back, just because someone doesn’t enjoy work parties doesn’t mean that they hate their coworkers.

            I’m a chatty introvert. I can talk the ears off just about anyone as long as I’m allowed to interact in a reasonably small group. I really enjoyed the after work parties with my team before the pandemic, a group of about 10 people I can handle for a few hours without too much trouble. I genuinely like working with my current department, but we’re 20+ employees split into three teams of between 6 and 8 people. I can socialize easily with my direct team, but I’m exhausted after a few hours with my whole department. Our office holiday party usually has about 170 attendees (out of 400+ employees). I sometimes go when they’ve picked an easily accessible venue that I can leave when I’m all peopled out for the day. But I won’t go if the party’s on a 6-hour cruise because I can’t leave when I want to.

            I prefer to leave early before coworkers I’m supposed to respect enough to be able to work with them get so drunk that they get all weepy on my shoulder or start pinching my butt, or groping me, all of which have happened. (No, I didn’t report it because I was drunk too, although I’ve never been drunk enough to harass my coworkers…) This doesn’t mean that I’m constantly afraid of being sexually harassed when I go to the office, absolutely not. But it does mean that I don’t want to be around some of my coworkers when they’ve had more than one or two drinks.

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        No you’re not, but if you like your coworkers and want to socialize with them, you’re not going to be asking whether you have to go to the office party. But ever someone who likes the people they work with might ask “How much is reasonable to drink at this party with co-workers I like?” or “why do I have to talk to the weirdoes from the unicorn widget team?”

        It’s like reading a relationship advice column, and starting to wonder whether you’re the only person who is on good terms with their parents. Even if people wrote in with “Dear Prudence, I really like both my parents” without a question, the columnists wouldn’t use them. “My parents are divorced, and I want to spend time with both of them, and how can we do that and also see my in-laws?” is a question.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I like my friends but there are still plenty of times when I ask myself if I really have to go to whatever social function I’ve been invited to. Then I usually suck it up and go, but it’s still an effort to persuade myself out of the house. I like being at home and don’t get a lot of downtime.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      No, the commentariat on this site just skews towards people who don’t typically enjoy workplace social activities, which I’d argue is something independent of liking your coworkers. I generally don’t want to do workplace social stuff either, but I do genuinely enjoy our holiday party.

      1. A Girl Named Fred*

        Completely agree with your argument about liking your coworkers and enjoying workplace social activities as being two independent things. I like my coworkers plenty, and even in the jobs I hated the most my immediate coworkers were usually a bright spot in the toxic pit. Even so, I may not want to go do social things with them – both because I don’t always want to socialize in general and also because I spend plenty of time with them as it is and would rather go see others I don’t see as often!

        1. There You Are*

          That’s where I land. I genuinely like most of my coworkers but I already see them more than I see my friends and family.

          1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

            Very mych this. 40 hours a week. I don’t need more of these people, no matter how lovely they are.

      2. Coffee Protein Drink*

        It is independent of liking your co-workers. Several people have made that point and it’s falling on deaf ears.

    3. Eliot Waugh*

      No, I’m with you! And I’ve really enjoyed office parties in the past. When I left my position at a university, one of the big bummers was knowing I’d miss out on the lovely holiday parties. Honestly I could probably attend as a plus 1 if I still wanted to…hmm.

    4. sour*

      Sure I like my coworkers but I spent 9 hours a day with them. I don’t have the spoons to drive an hour in traffic for mandatory fun.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        This is where all parties are not alike. Mine is during the 8-hour workday, in walking distance from the office. I like having the chance to chat with people I don’t work closely with, or even people I do work closely with, but only over email. It’s nice!

    5. Kay*

      I like the people I work with, but I work with people primarily from other contracting companies so if I went to my company’s party I’d be with people I dislike or people I don’t know!

    6. Orv*

      I like them fine, but I already spend more time with them than anyone but my wife. I’m not really looking to add more.

    7. Sad Desk Salad*

      I really like and respect all of my coworkers. But my time is limited, especially at year-end. I’d much rather spend that time with my wife, non-work friends, and my cats.

    8. Glass Stone*

      No, I like my colleagues and enjoy their company – at work. I just don’t want to spend my precious free time socialising with them too. Eight hours a day, five days a week is plenty of time with them, however much I like them, thanks!

    9. Bast*

      I like the people well enough at my current company. We are not as close as we have been at some other jobs, but they are good people here. I wouldn’t mind an occasional event. However, I greatly minded events back at an old job where attendance was noted, used against you if you didn’t attend “enough” events, and were typically heavily centered on drinking. My view on work events changes greatly if you try to force me to attend.

      1. Dinwar*

        This may be part of the general trend towards decreasing formality in our culture…. You can most obviously see it in clothing–what we consider business casual would have been considered horrifically informal a few generations ago–and language–see the discussion on “How do you do?” earlier today. But these sort of events fall under this heading as well.

        In the past it was expected that you’d attend formal events as part of your job, including parties; it was a way to establish/maintain horizontal social ties (networking) and vertical social ties (good relations with the boss). This involved certain performative aspects, which our culture tends to cull rather ruthlessly.

    10. Ana Maus*

      There is a lot of nuance to “like.” I can like a coworker enough to work with them and trade pleasantries. I can like a coworker enough to go to lunch with them once in a while or enough to be friends with them outside of work.

      1. allathian*

        Absolutely, and people also define the meaning of the word “like” in different ways. I mean I like people in general, and I can genuinely say that I like the vast majority of my coworkers, and currently I don’t actively dislike anyone.

        I have disliked some people I worked with in the past, including a former manager I was friends with (I learned my lesson there!) and in the end I couldn’t respect her managerial authority when she tried to wield it to the point of insubordination on my part. There was an intervention that could potentially have ended with me being fired, but fortunately for me she decided to retire instead. I was glad she finally retired during Covid so there was no party, and I just didn’t attend the virtual one (AFAIK nobody noticed I wasn’t there, although she may have been relieved I didn’t attend).

        Another time, a coworker was seriously offended by something I said (I’ve blanked out what it was) to the point that he’d ignore my presence completely. That was a bit awkward to say the least, but we’re good now, he seems to have forgotten all about it when all of us were remote and greeted me with enthusiasm when we saw each other again after 18 months. When I’m at the office, I can enjoy a coffee with him on our breaks, although granted we mostly talk about work.

        But liking my coworkers is easy when I mainly know their professional persona. Sure, I’m closer to some than to others, and most people I work with closely know that I’m married with a teenager, for example, and that I enjoy reading.

        I definitely don’t need to be friends with my coworkers to be able to work well with them, and I’ll certainly make sure that I won’t let myself believe that another manager is my friend again for as long as I’m their report. Thankfully the three managers I’ve had since the friend-manager have all been friendly but professional, and it wouldn’t occur to me to question their managerial authority…

        I enjoy socializing with my coworkers during our breaks, and whenever I go to the office, I try to find someone to go to lunch with. But I’d far rather spend my free time with my family and friends than socializing with coworkers.

    11. The Real Fran Fine*

      Nope. I like my immediate team members as well (even if my manager occasionally gets on my nerves, lol).

  20. Jenn*

    I’m dreading the holiday party this year. In the past, it was either a trip to local restaurant for lunch or it started at 3:30/4:00 on a workday and was done by 5:30. This year it’s a Saturday night from 5:00 – 10:00 at the local “fancy” hotel. I really wish I had an excuse not to go, but I’m already perceived as “not a team player” by some people with outsized influence, so I plan on showing up at 5:30 and leaving by 7:30.

    1. Misty_Meaner*

      If that’s already their perception of you (and honestly, that’s probably worth some introspection at least from a “how do I work with others” perspective more than a “party perspective”) then I’d just own it and not go at all and work on the team player reputation during office hours. Attending grudgingly for a short time and then being seen leaving early is not going to improve on that perception TBH.

    2. anti social Socialite*

      I can relate so hard to this. I thought I was a team player (I make it a point to say good morning to people, I’m always willing to help/take on work even if it’s not my department) but apparently upper management doesn’t see it so the only way to prove it to them is to attend the holiday party.

  21. stitchinthyme*

    My management makes sure to stress that our party really is optional and that there will be no negative repercussions if we don’t go. They say it’s supposed to be a reward, not an obligation. So, I go sometimes but not every year.

  22. sour*

    Mandatory attendance to a holiday party is bullshit and I’m pissed off that it affects my performance review.

    1. Misty_Meaner*

      If it’s during office hours, IN the office, then meh I get it; either show up or I guess take PTO–but don’t sit at the desk being a NOPE while others are singing Deck the Halls 4 feet away in a Conference Room, maybe? But if it’s a Saturday night “command performance” at an offisite location for which you have to buy an outfit, etc… Oh hell no. And IF it came up during a performance review, I’d call BS on it. “How does the fact that I don’t want to get shitfaced with the colleagues I spend 2000 hours a year with already, in any way affect the fact that I brought in XYZ business in the past quarter, and improved efficiency in my department by 20% while also improving historically abysmal retention rates amongst this department’s staff?” Or whatever nonsense applies, of course. I do NOT understand in WHAT world this 1) happens and 2) is PERMITTED to happen. If I, in my 25 years, had EVER been told a party was MANDATORY, I’d quite suddenly “see the light” and convert to a religion that doesn’t permit celebration and tell them to BRING IT ON!

      1. sour*

        Oh if it were in the office during office hours, I’d attend with a Santa hat on and jingle bells around my neck.

        But making me drive an hour out of my way after work on a Tuesday to spend time with people I already see more than my family? And it’s unpaid? Ughhh whyyyyyy.

    2. Bast*

      I worked for a company like this, and they were always upset that people were not appropriately “thankful” enough for “all they did for us.” This was not a once a year holiday party, it was a monthly event that usually centered around drinking. Not going to “enough” events would lower your raise and you were labeled “not a team player.” These were all after hours events, not great if you were sober/didn’t like drinking, or had a second job/children/other obligations. It’s bs that it should be taken into account for your performance review.

    3. Coffee Protein Drink*

      I don’t have the option to opt out, but at least it’s during business hours. We are required to contribute $30. Cheaper than a fancy dinner, I suppose, but I could have bought someone a nice Christmas gift with that money.

      1. Bast*

        I… get the ick from a mandatory event where you are required to contribute money, at a time when many people are already strapped for cash. The holidays can be a tight time for many.

  23. British Betty*

    I’d be really interested to hear from other British people in these comments because the way Americans talk about holiday parties is so alien to me.

    Our (problematic!) binge drinking culture is such that every single company I’ve ever worked for has had massive blow out Christmas parties where everyone is encouraged to get wrecked and to then gossip about it the next day. Yes people do embarrassing things, but it’s almost a badge of honour to then recount the story.

    1. Mornington Crescent*

      I’ve only been to sit-down meal type Christmas parties with jobs, ones where we ate at lunchtime and then it was basically an afternoon off if you didn’t have anything urgent to get back to the office to do.

      I’ve never been to one of the stereotypical “everyone gets really drunk and embarassing” type parties, but maybe the places I’ve worked at just haven’t gone in for them. My current employer does a summer party for the whole company, but it seems pretty optional, and I didn’t go this year.

    2. Caragh*

      I’m British and have never attended a Christmas party. No one has ever cared a toss. I’ve never missed out because of it, have been promoted regularly, am well-respected and seemingly liked, and I don’t socialise with people from work.

      American culture seems wild to me.

    3. Helvetica*

      I’m not British but European and I do find the approach to drinking on this site…fascinating. While we don’t necessarily have embarrassing blowout type parties, there is a lot of drinking and it is seen as normal. Fair enough if you don’t want to drink but it is not the norm to have one glass of wine for most people.

      1. allathian*

        Agreed. Although to be fair, at least in Finland the attitude to drinking at work parties has changed a lot during the 30+ years that I’ve been working. People are a lot less tolerant of drunk and disorderly behavior at work parties now, and it’s both more common and more generally accepted to abstain from alcohol.

        Early in my career, one former employer let us expense cab rides after the annual holiday party because it ended when the buses and trains had stopped running for the night. They called a cab company and told them when the party was scheduled to end, and there was a line of cabs available when it did end. People who were going in the same direction often shared a cab.

        At our holiday parties, my employer pays for a maximum of three drinks. Lots of people drink more than that, but they pay for those drinks themselves. If I do attend one of those events, I want to be able to leave before people get very drunk.

        1. Helvetica*

          Oh, I am from Estonia, so I understand what you convey very well :)
          Attitudes to drinking have definitely shifted for the better; I also don’t think we should be getting drunk and disorderly but most people can hold their liquor.

      2. Been There*

        We have wine at our office New Year’s party, but it’s not a problem if you don’t drink. And it’s usually a lunch, so people might drink 1 or 2 glasses but not much more than that.

  24. Lacey*

    I’m so grateful to all my employers who have scheduled the office Christmas party during work hours Sometimes held at the office, sometimes held at a genuinely cool location offsite and then, when the party is over super early… we just all go home and don’t work anymore.

    It’s beautiful and truly gets me in the holiday spirit.

  25. Ismonie*

    We aren’t going to work parties this year. I’m not going to gatherings that size with friends right now, so I’m not taking the risk of doing it for work functions. (Ok, I went to one Beyoncé concert, but that’s it. And it was outdoors.) Sure, I have medical reasons not to go, but my husband doesn’t and he’s not feeling it either. When our outside of work socializing hasn’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, we aren’t taking on additional covid/tripledemic risks for people we work with.

    1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Yep, this. My spouse decided to go to their office’s holiday party, which was last held in 2019. I stayed home. And now, despite having avoided it for three years and being current on all our boosters, we’re both laid up with COVID.

  26. whyisyourbooksticky*

    Anyone have advice for someone who has to attend a giant, very fancy work party as a plus one, during which I’ll mainly be left to my own devices as my husband works the room? There are only so many people I can make small talk with before I want to run screaming. Short of exposing myself to something contagious to get out of going, does anyone have suggestions for surviving that don’t involve downing half the open bar by myself?

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Honestly, I’d try to make a game out of it because you’re not just trying to survive the party, but you’ve got to kill time while your husband does his thing so you can’t just leave whenever. Like, make yourself a scavenger hunt type list of things to do/observe at the party and work your way through it. “Talk to two other people who look equally bored”, “count the number of lamps in the room”, “decide who has the best shoes and ask them where they got them,” etc.

      Also have a “safeword” with your husband that indicates you’re at your wits end and he needs to wrap it up. Or decide if you’re both okay with you calling a cab and ducking out early while he sticks around if you can’t withstand anymore and he’s not done working the room.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        My partner and I have one of those! Our social safeword is an endearment that we don’t ordinarily use for each other. So “Sweetie, how are you doing?” would be an honest question, but “Honey, how are you doing?” would be code for “LET’S LEAVE RIGHT NOW”.

        Extremely useful when That One Person has decided to attach themselves to the party and my partner had not been fully briefed on the situation.

        (Actual safeword changed to protect the guilty.)

    2. Menace to Sobriety*

      1) Drive separately so you can at some point, if desired, discreetly slip away once you’ve been intro’d to the “ONES WHO MATTER”
      2) There’s a SUPER good chance there are others in the SAME SHOES. Find another lost looking soul, walk up and commisserate.
      3) Play your own mental (or real, I don’t judge) drinking game every time one of his coworkers does something he’s told you about.
      4) Download a Kindle app or couple of games on your phone so you can appear to be looking intently at something, while having fun. If asked, “Ugh, it never ends, even on holiday, does it?”
      5) Make sure he gives you the rundown on everyone so you can start a conversation! “Clifford… Oh, John told me that you collect seashells, right? I do love the beach….”
      6) Remember, it’s a few hours. Less than childbirth or a bad traffic jam. You’ll get through it.

      Good Luck and Godspeed!

    3. J*

      My poor husband had to take on this role for me in a past life. One thing I did was to find a safe group of people who I could count on for him to talk to. I knew a colleague had a spouse who was in the same boat and very much an introvert and usually my colleague and I would lead our spouse’s around to just the right amount (and right type) of people, then leave the spouses at a table together in the corner. Both were the kind to not need to fill the quiet with conversation, they’d keep an eye on personal items or hold spots while one grabbed food or a drink. They’d keep a home base for us to take breaks at and usually they played online or read on the Kindle app while they waited and enjoyed a free drink or two. They’d inevitably have people drop by and colleague and I worked the room together so we’d send someone over if they needed relief. Usually coworkers had some hint of who the partners were, like my marathon-running coworker who knew my husband was training for his first marathon from work chit chat went over and talked about training strategies – something I was happy to be excluded from.

      Making it a team effort really helped. I had a networking buddy and they had a relief team buddy.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Kindle app: cell phones have been a godsend! Back in the day I would sneak a paperback into my coat pocket, but sitting and reading a book is considered weird, so I had to find a very discreet place to do it. But while reading a book is weird, looking at your cell phone is ubiquitous. People assume I am checking my fantasy league or something: not the suspect activity of long form reading.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          I’ll put in a vote for a library app like Libby or Hoopla. A smaller selection, but absolutely free. (More accurately: already paid for out of your taxes.)

          1. Evan Þ*

            And even better, the library app often lets you read it in Kindle if you want!

            (Yes, I like the Kindle app interface a lot better than Libby’s.)

      1. Menace to Sobriety*

        Also, make friends AT the refreshment table! “You have to try this shrimp dip!” or even better, “Stay away from the guacamole, Bob had his hands all up in it!” etc… Great conversation starter, food!

    4. Zombeyonce*

      Some people might think this is a terrible idea, but try the single earbud hidden by hair with an audiobook going and people watch, if you can. Stand by the bar nursing a drink (I like nonalcoholic in a glass so it looks like a regular drink) and get a refill every hour or so when all the ice is melted so you have something to do with your hands. You’ll be able to hear enough to respond if someone talks to you, but you’ll also be entertained and won’t die of boredom. (It’s easy to take out an earbud if needed without anyone noticing by doing what looks like a benign hair adjustment and dropping it in a purse or pocket.)

  27. Sunflower*

    We usually have dinner at a restaurant on the company’s dime but we’re not allowed this year unless we do team building stuff at the same time. Well, we *can* have a party but the company won’t pay for it less we do that and the supervisor provide a report of the activities. At least attendance is optional.

    1. Sunflower*

      Adding that I’m sure it will be annoying to the other restaurant patrons. I don’t think I’ll go anyway since I need to eat better for my health issues.

  28. Casey*

    Oh this is so well timed. Advice please! I am a new manager and trying to figure out whether I need to go to my holiday party. It is a huge affair that we rent out a stadium for, everyone gets super drunk… last time I brought a friend as a +1 and had fun, but barely saw anyone I knew. This year I don’t have a +1 and find the idea of wandering around trying to find people to talk to pretty exhausting. Maybe I also have a complex that most of my team is in serious relationships and I’m single. Is it ok if I skip it?

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Your job title has “manager” so I feel like you need to go, but the “we rent out a stadium” and “super drunk” parts makes me think no one will notice if you don’t and you can probably skip it.

    2. Angstrom*

      New and manager are both reasons to go.
      If you’re on good terms with some members of your team who are going, maybe arrange to meet at a particular time/place? At something that huge you’re not the only person who’s going to feel overwhelmed.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      The entire point of going, assuming that getting super drunk does not appeal to you, is to be seen. If it is such a massive affair that you are unlikely to be seen by anyone who would care, and anyone who would care but doesn’t see you will assume they just missed you, then don’t go if you don’t want to.

    4. Critical Rolls*

      Is it organized in such a way that you actually interact with anyone who matters (in the sense of, people you work with directly or VIPs)? If not, and you’re just a face in a drunken crowd, skip. Otherwise, do a chip-and-dip: show up, eat the food, shake the hands, and bounce.

  29. Veryanon*

    The best office holiday party I ever attended was held at an upscale hipster bowling alley in Philly (I forget the name of it) during the workday and they had lots of yummy little appetizers and drinks. The best part was that you could make an early exit and literally no one noticed. (Okay, I was the one who slipped out early as I just don’t like parties in general. But the yummy apps were really good!)

  30. anon for this*

    I have begged my boss to consider moving the “holiday” party to January. That’s when people have more time, aren’t traveling, don’t have to deal with cleaning the house so Aunt Stella won’t complain about the dusty baseboards, don’t have to attend half a dozen holiday plays and recitals, don’t have to shop or cook or bake or craft. The one time I attended an end-of-year party in January was a blast. They booked an amazing hotel, served a six-course dinner, entertainment, gifts, and activities, and gave us a stipend for rideshares or cabs home. It was a smashing success and everyone had a great time.

    My current company, though? We have zillions of year-end deadlines, year-end corporate goals, filings, industry meetings, all in December. Plus a shutdown for the last week. December has always been a throwaway months, but we’re expected to get all this work done AND participate in all this forced festivity, some of which people have to travel across the country to? And that’s just our department. Now HR is pleading with us to attend one or more of their virtual or in-person “fun” activities, prefaced by “we know you’re all busy, but…” No. I’m showing my face at the all-day luncheon/meetings/fun-activity nonsense for my department, but I’m peacing out to another country the week before the shutdown and will not be attending the virtual escape room, thanks so much.

    If they really wanted us to be merry and jolly, they’d give us an extra day off, or better yet, a few no-meetings day so we could get all this work done that is super duper urgent and due by December 31.

  31. Delphine*

    I always look forward to our holiday party. It’s an employee-only sit-down dinner that caps our year. The company pays for something fancy and private. Our managers recognize our accomplishments and hand out small gifts. People can leave right after dinner or they can stick around. There is no binge drinking, no misbehavior. It’s just a small group enjoying each other’s company.

  32. Vanilla latte breve*

    The best office holiday party ive ever attended was, ironically, at the most toxic place i ever worked. They took the entire department out to a semi-fancy restaurant for a paid for lunch on a Friday and let us go home afterwards. Everyone loved it and it was such a nice break in the midst of the chaos of December.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Years ago I worked in a small legal practice for Terrible Boss. It was an extremely toxic workplace. But put Terrible Boss into social mode and he was utterly charming, and took us to outstanding and expensive restaurants.

  33. I forgot my username*

    Any advice for when it’s pretty much unspoken that you MUST attend when you don’t have a +1 but every coworker you know does, have a shyness that is criminally vulgar, and your company just laid off half the staff so you’re not exactly overflowing with good cheer?

        1. Angstrom*

          My sympathies. I don’t know why organizers do that.

          If you want guests to mingle, IMO the best arrangement is to have food and drink stations scattered thoughout the venue so that everyone has to move.

    1. Angstrom*

      One classic shy person approach is think of yourself as an anthropologist, whose mission is to observe these strange rituals that occur once a year.
      A more social approach is to ask your coworkers to introduce you to their plus ones. that’ll make a good impression, and you may find one with whom you have something in common.

  34. Researchalatorlady*

    I wonder if Alison assumes that all office parties are free to attendees (with her reference to the thankless tasks of party organizers.) What if, as Coffee Protein Drink mentioned, you are charged to attend, or it is a potluck where the employer provides nothing? I feel no obligation to attend a party where I will incur out of pocket costs for parking and food (I work from home usually).

  35. Trippedamean*

    I would add some things that may seem really basic but in my experience, need to be repeated. Such as: do not talk about politics. Do not talk about religion. Do not lead a prayer for the whole group. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, all 3 of those come from one holiday party I went to.) If there will be a gift swap, make clear what you do or don’t expect people to bring for it.

    We had a white elephant swap in one of my workplaces. The only requirement was below a certain price. In my family, a white elephant swap consists of wrapping the most ridiculous and/or useless things you can find and adding them to the pile (my very large uncle gave away some of his very large underwear once, for example). Luckily, I knew better than to do that but still understood a white elephant swap to be about having fun and frivolous gifts rather than things you might actually pick out for yourself. I got a Wonder Woman Notepad Set to give away. The day of the party, several departments got together and we all arranged ourselves around the walls of a huge room – there were probably 50 people total. People begin to choose and unwrap presents. It becomes clear to me about halfway through that I miscalculated horribly because the most common gifts were blankets, tasteful bottles of wine or liquor, and puzzles. No one wanted my Wonder Woman Notepad Set, there was an embarrassing silence when it was opened, and the person who did end up with it could barely contain her disappointment.

    1. Bast*

      Most of the gifts in our office Secret Santa were consisted of either a bottle of alcohol, a Visa gift card (for those extremely last minute people who stopped at the gas station next door and needed something FAST that didn’t need wrapped) and occasionally something like a nice candle/expensive chocolates. One year, our drunk upon arrival CEO came in absolutely THRILLED with his gift, making comments on the “lucky one” who would get his gift, he couldn’t wait to see what their reaction was, etc. It was a dildo. A dildo among all of the bottles of wine and Visa gift cards. I’d rather get the Wonder Woman notepad by far.

  36. H.C.*

    Leave the photos to the pros or to specifically designated photo areas. No one needs to see unsolicited candids of them stuffing their faces, three sheets to the wind, doing silly (possibly forced) party activities, let alone with subpar lighting / amateurish angles / weird filters and editing, etc.

    1. FloralWraith*

      And if you’re hiring a photographer, like we do for all of our staff parties, tell them to only be there for the first hour or so, before people start really drinking.

  37. 7. Be cautious if you bring a date*

    “Be cautious if you bring a date.” So true, even if that date is your spouse. At a past place of work a few years ago, the holiday party took place on my last day of working there. I had a temporary assignment, and I was disappointed about not getting a permanent position with them. My husband had had a drink too many and was saying rude things about the people who were on that interview committee – loud enough for them to maybe hear. I could not wait to get out of there.

  38. Baska*

    One of the consequences to working for very small companies for most of my career is that I don’t think I’ve ever working at a company during the holiday season that actually had a holiday party. Honestly, I don’t think I’m missing anything. :)

  39. HittingHeadonCeiling*

    Employees at satellite office invited to attend Friday evening party near HQ which is 3 hours away. I was surprising how many are attending and covering their own hotel. Not me!

  40. CSRoadWarrior*

    Last holiday party I was at was pre-COVID, in December 2019. Since then, neither my former or current employer has ever had one. Mostly because we are all hybrid or remote, with some employees as far as the opposite coast. So they figure there is no sense in having a party.

    But I do agree with the list completely. Also, as someone who isn’t really social, I agree with #6 especially. It keeps you busy but doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. Though I never really had a job at any parties I have been at so I just mingle as much as I can. But I never really have much to say.

  41. Kyrielle*

    Our company has always had a very upscale (too upscale for my tastes!) holiday party, but it was entirely optional. Having gone to other company events that were optional, I will say your odds of meeting anyone you knew were not high. If you were trying, even. (But we have several thousand people at my location, and it’s a site-wide party.)

  42. Lils*

    Mandatory holiday parties center the needs of the organization and leadership over the needs of employees. Companies who do this are desperate for validation about the quality of the organization and their leadership.

    I am staring down the barrel of my second mandatory holiday party at this job next week and dreading it with the fire of a thousand suns. I don’t observe religious holidays for reasons, I struggle being around drinking, I don’t eat normal food, and I can’t hear well in crowded places. The people with whom I need to network and would enjoy socializing with are remote and can’t attend. The party is an exercise in watching everyone else eat, struggling to hear anything being said, and bracing myself for unkind comments.

    I don’t want a party–I want clear, achievable work-related goals, decent compensation, and competent leadership. There are a hundred other ways to create and maintain a functional, capable team–ways that don’t involve quasi-religious festivities and alcohol, and ways that would honor the diverse needs of employees.

  43. Alex*

    > Rule 1: Go to your office holiday party for at least a little while, even if you’d rather not.

    Okay, but does this rule apply when it’s a ticketed event? I’d show up for free, but spending $25 for a mediocre buffet and a couple of drinks feels ridiculous.

  44. lilsheba*

    Nope, don’t need one or want one. I don’t want that risk of getting sick from being close to all those people.

  45. Blue barramundi*

    I work for the federal government in Australia and the only Xmas party is one organised by the staff where everyone pays for themselves. This is because of the optics of taxpayers’ money being spent on public servants’ snacks and drinks.
    I’m not complaining at all as we have the week between Christmas and New Year’s off work without using annual leave.

    1. allathian*

      Are there consequences if you skip the party you have to pay for yourself?

      I work for the government in Finland, although as an employee rather than a public servant, and I’m very grateful that our taxpayers don’t mind us getting the same kinds of perks that employees in the private sector do…

    2. Fed anon*

      Same in the US government. Ours is organized by upper management, but it’s potluck, and we also have to bring our own plates, cups, and silverware. We do not get the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. At least the party is during a workday so it’s paid time, I guess.

  46. Mark*

    This is such a helpful article! I just found out that my job’s Christmas dinner is going to be held in a conference room, on a Sunday when only three people are actually scheduled to work, while business continues on in the rest of the center (I work in an urgent care). My coworkers, who have been here longer than I, say that in the past it’s been just a meeting, albeit with catered food. Trying to decide if this follows normal holiday party rules or it would just be… coming into work unpaid on an off day lol.

  47. ADHDAnon*

    Rule # ? Nothing good ever happens at a work event after 10PM.

    Or – Always leave by 10 PM (unless you love drama). The timing on this may be US centric, but always leaving by 10 PM means I’ve been able to enjoy what is fun about the event, and be gone by the time things get out of hand if that’s going to happen.

  48. Cactus_Song*

    As someone tasked with planning the office holiday party, it’s been fun reading through the comments. With so many different perspectives, you can’t please everyone. One good thing about ours is that one of our most visible leaders never attends for personal reasons. That’s set a standard so that others can follow suit if they so wish. About 10% of our employees won’t attend this year, and that’s fine. Ours is a dinner and after hours, but it’s on a week day, so at least we’re not encroaching on people’s weekends.

    Some things this comment section may not like is that it is more on the formal side (our CEO loves dressing up and we’re small enough that they’ll take note of what everyone is wearing), and we do a white elephant gift exchange. Admittedly, I enjoy both dressing up and the WE gifts, but I recognize it’s not for everyone (and it’s not required to participate in the WE but everyone does). I try to provide a lot of support for both the dress code and the WE gifts.

    My last company had a required “talent show” at their holiday party for all new hires that year, and I thought that was way worse than a WE gift exchange. It got very competitive between departments too and people REALLY stressed about.

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