Last night, my husband began telling me who wasn't coming to his company's holiday party for managers. The way he was presenting it to me was as if the two people who weren't coming were doing something extremely offensive. I turned to him and said, "Why is it such a big deal if they don't come?"
His answer surprised me. He sounded kind of exasperated and answered: "Because they are part of the team."
While some of us think of our holiday office party as no big deal, senior managers, like my husband, consider it crucial to showing you want to be part of the team.
I know you might be thinking... "I can spend my personal time how I want to spend it and if I don't want to hang around my co-workers on my time off, so be it." You might also be thinking, "I don't want to go alone or I don't want to be around my jerk of a boss after hours."
Those are good reasons. But not really.
If you are in a bad place, skipping the office holiday party will only make it worse. And, if you use the opportunity well, there is a lot to gain.
One year at my newspaper’s holiday party, I ended up sipping champagne with one of the top editors. It was the first time I had a conversation with her outside the office and about something other than business. I learned she actually had a sense of humor, a quality she rarely showed in the office. We joked about our college experiences and compared our favorite cocktails.
The next time I saw her at work, she treated me more kindly and seemed to have more time than usual to ask me what I was working on. I was thankful I had attended the office holiday party and I realized what a significant networking opportunity it had provided me.
When my brother-in-law told me he had no intention of going to his office holiday party, I told him to think about someone at his company with whom he wanted a better relationship and use the festive environment to make that happen.
At holiday parties, the dynamics are different than other times of the year. People attend to eat, drink and mingle with no specific business agenda. Whether it's your own company's holiday party, your spouse's or a professional organization's, the event is a chance to get in front of someone who can give you a future job, send business your way, or even make your work life easier. Holiday parties can be worthwhile for the opportunities they present when the atmosphere is festive.
Let's say you are at your spouse's holiday office party and you get one-on-one time with his boss. You can casually mention something your partner contributed that his boss might not be aware of or might have overlooked. Or, let's say you have had a hot/cold relationship with one of your co-workers. Sharing time outside the work environment might help you discover you have more in common than you realize.
So, while you might initially consider skipping a holiday office party as no big deal, it's actually far from that. Drink in moderation, mix as much as possible and get in front of supervisors while they may be in a rare good mood. Just being there is a much bigger deal than you might think. Use the opportunity well and there is a lot to gain.