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Yes, you really do have to attend your office holiday party—here's why

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As tempting as it may be to skip out on the forced fun and awkward colleague camaraderie that is a company holiday party, you should suck it up and go.

We get it. This isn't what you wanted to hear. You already give 40-plus hours a week to your company. You already see your coworkers all the time and you're not even sure you like most of them during work hours. You don't want to talk to your boss about his daughter's dance class and the open bar seems to be incapable of making a decent drink.

All of that is irrelevant.

What matters is what is expected of you by your employer. Because if you signed on to a company that prizes such events as part of its company culture, you need to attend.

"Whether you have to go to your holiday party depends on the company culture," says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. "There are certain organizations where your absence could be a career-limiting move. If it's a place where you are expected to participate in all work matters and outside events, someone who is missing stands out."

This is especially true if your employer treats their parties more as end-of-year events at which service awards, bonuses or other announcements are presented. It then becomes a literal work event, says Taylor.

Another thing to consider is how senior your role is. If you're not the head of the company, but still fairly high up, you should definitely go, says Taylor.

"Senior leadership is expected to be the standard-bearer of the company culture. You're expected to live its principles," says Taylor. "I don't like parties. I try talking my employees out of them, but they want them and so I attend them. And even though I'm not a party guy, I do expect senior management to show up. I'm not taking notes on who isn't there, but it isn't lost on me who comes and who doesn't."

At companies where attendance is expected, skipping can have big negative consequences. Sure, you won't be fired for missing it. But you risk appearing disconnected from your job and unwilling to be part of the team. That could lead your managers to conclude that you're not ready for a title change or additional responsibilities, since you don't seem willing to do what it takes to be a part of the company, says Taylor.

I don't like parties. I try talking my employees out of them, but they want them and so I attend them. And even though I'm not a party guy, I do expect senior management to show up.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.
CEO, Society for Human Resource Management

Whether those readings are fair or not, in many companies this is how your absence will be perceived. Play it safe and go, especially if you're ambitious and want to move up at that organization. "These little things all factor into promotions, people promote those who live and are consistent with the company culture."

Finally, make sure your boss sees you at the party and follow the "90-minute rule."

"Anything less reads as 'I did this because I had to.' And, if you plan to come for 30 minutes, you shouldn't even bother," says Taylor.

At the same time, there are companies at which not attending the holiday party is no big deal. If your CEO and other senior management aren't attending, if half your office never bothers to show up, then you're likely safer not bothering.

The key, says Taylor, is to know what kind of place you work for and the impression you'll make on superiors if you skip it.

If you're new to a company and unsure how important the party is, Taylor suggests asking coworkers about it. Do they attend? Does management? How do people react if you miss it? He also recommends reflecting on other activities you may have been asked to do within the company. Are there often after work drinks? Does the company hold monthly Saturday meetings? Answering these questions can help you gauge how important these non-9-to-5 type things are at your company.

Still want or need to skip out on the party? It's best to have a good excuse, and inform your boss sooner rather than later.

Because parties are typically planned well in advance, a conflict like a son's 18th birthday or your 50th wedding anniversary should be disclosed as soon as you know about it, and should be framed as "I want to attend but I have this highly unusual conflict." Of course, you can also always go with the last-minute emergency excuse, if you really need to bail — but do so at your own risk.

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