Do I have to go to my work holiday party? Advice on pandemic-era get-togethers


It’s the holiday season, and you’re probably planning family get-togethers, doing some gift shopping and maybe getting ready for some time off from work. But should your plans include attending your company’s holiday party, given that we’re still in a pandemic?

Many workers are wondering if shifts in work culture caused by the pandemic have affected what is expected at work parties during the holidays. Are you required to attend? Exactly how long is enough? Is it okay to arrive late? Does any of this change if the party is virtual? Does being an all-remote, hybrid, or full-time office worker create different dynamics? What about concealment?

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For younger employees who joined the workforce during the pandemic, this is the first time they’ve been invited to a company party. Others are used to working from home either part-time or full-time, and may manage their schedule differently than they did before. Some office workers have returned to pre-pandemic rules, heading to the office five days a week. And in some firms, all three types of workers are found in the same organization.

“We’re between worlds now,” says Jeff Schwartz, senior advisor for Deloitte’s Future of Work program and vice president of Gloat Talent Marketplace. “And we’re still actively trying to figure out how to manage this transition.”

So what does that mean for your work party?

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Here’s what workplace experts recommend when it comes to attending your company’s holiday party.

In general, holiday parties should be thought of as such—social events that allow you to mingle with supervisors and colleagues, and work aside, the experts said. They said that while a lot about the workplace has changed during the pandemic, the concept of the holiday party remains relatively the same. But there are some new nuances at play that may influence your decisions about the party.

There are several things you may want to consider when deciding whether to attend a workplace party, how long you plan to stay if you go, and how you might handle a virtual party. The good news? Many experts say the pandemic has highlighted the importance — and potential challenges — of people’s lives outside of work. In turn, this has resulted in many cases that the bosses may have a greater understanding that you may be busy with other responsibilities.

“We learn how to do things again,” says Gil Gugino Banti, director of the Lerner Center for Career Services at the University of Delaware. “But also, we’re a little bit more relaxed and a little bit more understanding of people.”

When deciding whether to attend an optional work party while on vacation, ask yourself what value you expect from the event, says Sophie Thane, HR consultant. Workers may see value in simply having face-to-face time with their colleagues, getting a chance to socialize or create better bonds.

“But if you’re in a position where you don’t feel it will add any value, feel free to say no,” she said.

Remote or hybrid workers may get more value from holiday parties because they may not mix as much with their colleagues in person. This may be the first opportunity for these workers to socialize casually.

“Familiarity breeds confidence,” Banti said. “for this reason [working] It is likely that the relationship will improve.

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Many business experts say don’t feel pressured to attend an optional party. If you choose not to go, you should politely tell your manager in exchange for being silently absent. This helps people know what to expect and can mitigate bad assumptions about why you are missing out.

If a party is mandatory, or there is an unspoken expectation that you attend, but you still feel uncomfortable, go ahead with a plan in mind, says Brenda Ellington Booth, executive coach and professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. That may include wearing a mask, Banti said. That could mean sharing carpooling with a colleague, Ellington Booth said, or if you’ve never met anyone in person, text a familiar co-worker and plan to get to the party at the same time, for example.

Arriving fashionably late can also ease potential awkwardness as more people will be at the party before you arrive. But unlike a friend’s party, you probably won’t want to be more than 20 or 30 minutes late for a company party or even less if it’s a virtual event, dinner, or activity-based party where people might be waiting for your party. Arrival, Ellington Booth said.

Experts agree that showing up for a party too short on a company holiday may not be the best look. So if you do attend, be prepared to spend more than half an hour at the event. You may also want to understand in advance what the event involves. Is it dinner, as it may be difficult to leave during the second course? Will you be on teams and playing games? Will your boss or CEO give a speech?

“There is an expectation that they will be there for as long as they have an agenda,” Schwartz said Says.

Schwartz notes that virtual events tend to allow for a different approach. It is a habit for workers to say at the beginning of a meeting, whether it is by voice or chat, that they can only stay for a certain period of time due to other obligations. If the virtual holiday party includes activities, Schwartz suggested workers take the same approach and mention ahead of time.

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After all, if you’re not sure what’s expected of you, a safe bet is to ask trusted colleagues or your manager if you’re comfortable, says Bunty. It’s also a good idea to set your intentions before you go to a holiday party, says Ellington Booth. Are there people you want to make sure you spend time with? How do you want to be seen?

If you end up on the fence about whether to show up, Schwartz says, dive in and go. It is likely that people who attend are hoping to connect with colleagues they may not meet in the usual course of business.

“Maybe you’re having a good time,” he said, laughing. “But there are no guarantees.”