Illustration by Dave van Patten

Do I Have to Go to the Office Holiday Party?

The first in our weeklong series on how to survive the office holiday party with your reputation intact

So it begins — the start of office holiday party season. (Even the movies say so.) To help you navigate yours, we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know and the woman behind our biweekly ‘Go See HR’ column. Every day this week she’ll be answering one holiday party-specific question to ensure that your festive office gathering results in harmless fun instead of a never-ending nightmare your co-workers won’t let you live down.

I don’t want to go to the holiday party — for many different reasons. But foremost among them: I see these people every day and feel no obligation to spend time with them outside of work, too. I don’t ever do office happy hours either. I know the holiday party should be the exception to my rule, but I don’t want to bend it. Everyone already knows how I feel so is there any reason to have to explain my decision not to attend to my co-workers, who inevitably always try to make me feel guilty about it? — Elliot K., Chicago
Good for you for setting boundaries between the workplace and personal space. In your case, you’ve made a conscious decision that your support of your colleagues ends when you leave the office. You recognize that there are precious few hours between leaving work and sleeping, so why not spend that time with people you want to be with and activities that bring you joy?

If the holiday party is a big, boisterous event — large venue, alcohol, food, dancing — I don’t think anyone is going to miss you unless you’re a senior executive and attendance is basically mandatory. Your colleagues may try to guilt you into attending, but you should reaffirm that after-hours events aren’t your thing. If they’re still pressuring you, lie and tell them you’re not giving up your [INSERT EVENT HERE] tickets.

However, if the holiday party is a more of an intimate affair, you need to think twice about not attending. This type of holiday party is really a celebration of the company’s successful year. It’s much more business-oriented than an excuse to get drunk, and you may miss some insights about the company’s future direction if you’re not there — as well as some new opportunities for yourself in the new year. So grit your teeth, consider it a required business function, and whatever else you do, don’t miss it on principle.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.