For all of you who are plotting to ditch your company's holiday party, forget it: You have to go. And for all of you who are really excited about the holiday party, you can also forget it: The open bar is off-limits to you.
Before I launch into a diatribe against people who ditch company parties, let me just say that I am not a fan of the company holiday party. For one thing, not everyone has a December holiday in his or her life, so the concept is culturally alienating. For another thing, in most cases, holiday party means Christmas party with a token menorah hanging from the rafters: More cultural alienation. But my biggest complaint is that company parties are almost never on company time; they are unpaid overtime for employees.
That said, when I have attended “holiday” parties at which the only holiday is Christmas, I have pretended to have a good time. And you will have to do this, too, because the people who are promoted in corporate America are the people who fit in. Console yourself with the idea that if you are successful in corporate life, you can run your own company and abolish all holiday shenanigans from your offices.
People who blow off company parties look like snobs. Everyone has something better to do that night. But the people who actually DO something better are dissing the people who show up. You will get more done at the office if people like you, and attending one or two office parties is a small price to pay for co-workers who do favors for you when your projects are behind schedule. Luckily, you do not need to be the first there and the last to leave. Show up, make sure people who know you see that you're there. And slip out as soon as you can without being rude.
Some times you have to attend client’s holiday parties. The number one thing to remember when participating in holiday parties — either at a client’s or your own office — is that it is a chance to enhance your image. So since you don't wear short skirts to client meetings, don't show up to a client's Christmas party as Santa's hottest elf. Leverage annoying conventions like grab bags to remind people that you are clever and thoughtful. Buy a good gift but follow the rules: Paying $15 for a $10 grab-bag gift is cheating and dishonest, and stupid gag gifts are just that – stupid.
And even though everyone knows not to get rip-roaring drunk at an office party, people do it all the time. Remember in junior high school when the drug awareness counselor told you to be ready to “just say no?” with a prepared speech when friends tried to push you wayward? You probably didn't use the speech then, but you can use it now. No matter how boring and intolerable the party is, the open bar is not your last opportunity in this lifetime for free mixed drinks. Surely you have a friend who is getting married or getting dumped. Save the ten Cosmopolitans for that event. The only way to manage your image effectively is to do it sober.
You should also buy your boss a gift. Not because she is starving or has a hankering for a fruit basket, but because a gift is an excuse to write a card. Take the time to thank your boss for what she's doing to help you. Be genuine and specific so you won’t seem like a brown nose. Maybe your boss has actually done very little for you, but I would bet money he thinks he's been very helpful. So you can thank him for trying, even if he has failed. After all, isn’t being generous and understanding what the holidays are for?