The Dreaded Office Holiday Party: The Grinch Disguised in Santa's Clothing?

By Gwen Parkes

Workplace Parties Equal Holiday Stress

With the holidays in full swing, you have probably already received an invitation to your office's annual holiday party and begun to wrestle with the yearly workplace dilemma: "Do I attend?"

Annual holiday parties are stressors for many people because it feels as if it is being forced upon us. Without specifically stating so, the invitation is a giant red flag waving in your face, reminding you to submit to workplace socializing, making it feel awkward, forced and downright annoying, like taking out the trash or paying bills each month.

Office Parties Put the "Work" in Workplace

Why these parties are deemed as such remains a mystery because they could all be considered work. Call a spade a spade. Office holiday parties should be renamed workplace parties or working happy hours, or networking parties, because that is exactly what they are, and all of them come with a certain level of expectations.

You are usually expected to attend, regardless of what you prefer to do, thereby making it like any other obligation that you have to put on your calendar. Workplace parties have an environment that is all their own and certain behavioral norms and etiquette rules must be followed. For example, you must remain professional in your behavior, but walk a fine line of not talking too much "shop." How are you supposed to break the ice with people you barely know when the office is the only common thread between you? What sort of icebreaker do you use for that?

Work Disguised as Parties

These parties are nothing more than wolves in sheep clothing posing as an opportunity to get to know the folks at the office, but at the same time, threatening your job, sanity and stress level if you do not do it properly and according to the "rules." He may not say it outright, but the boss will give you the fish eye if you spend all your time talking with your regular office buddies when you are expected to be networking and breaking out of your comfort zone. Does that seem fair?

Food and refreshments are laid out like gifts under a Christmas tree, but you have to be careful to not eat or drink too much otherwise you will be labeled a "pig" or a "drunk". Your time is your own and so valuable, yet you cannot arrive too late or people will think you are rude, and you cannot leave too early or people will think you are disrespectful.

If you bring your spouse or significant other you need to be cordial and make an effort, or at least appear to be making an effort, to introduce him or her to other employees. You have to epitomize only the best attributes of an employee so as to make your company look good -- no gossiping or inappropriate water cooler talk, no flirting, politely shake hands with as many people as possible and be sure to smile the entire time so that the boss feels reassured that you are networking and enjoying the holiday party.

Being Party to the Workplace Party

What are you left with? Another holiday obligation that requires certain behavior, certain manners, networking and schmoozing, and one that is a total time suck all to make your boss and senior managers feel better about themselves; like they are doing you some great big holiday favor by throwing a networking event at the office complete with paper cups of cheap wine and beer and catered food. You are at the office enough, why would you want to be there any more than you have to? Especially if you are not getting paid for it!

Unfortunately, office holiday parties are like home renovations or traveling with small children. They suck when you are in the moment, and you swear that you will never do them again because all they do is stress you out and make your life miserable, but you are happy when they are done, and you look back on them fondly over the years.

Don't Kick a Gift Horse In the Mouth

Just like death and taxes, the office holiday party is inevitable and something that you have to be subjected to every year so that you can appreciate all the good in your life. Consider your attendance at the office holiday party as mandatory, but also as a gift that reminds you throughout the year about all the wonderful things you have to be thankful for. It can be both a chore and a gift; it can be the Grinch dressed in a Santa suit.

Are You Naughty or Nice?

While you cannot control many of the aspects around the office holiday party, you can take control of your behavior at the holiday party and your attitude towards the office party, thereby making your experience that much more positive. So, take this opportunity to decide if you want to be the Grinch or Santa?

Next: Mastering Gift-Giving At Work >>

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