Over the years, I've been involved with holiday parties in three different roles. As the leader of many organizations, I've been the host. As the employee (or guest of one), I've been the attendee. And, as a coach, I've helped many clients deal with these affairs. Consequently, I've heard this question a lot: Should I go or not?
Speaking strictly from a career perspective, there's no question about it — Go!
Even if you hate mingling, don't like getting "dressed-up," dislike the people you'll have to face, don't like dancing, eating, drinking, large groups, small rooms, or whatever other reason you'd use to skip the event, I say go. Strategically speaking, the time you invest can pay off —many times over.
So, if you want to help your career, suck it in. Attend the party and follow my five annual holiday tips.
1. Set an objective -- In advance of the event, think through what the best possible outcome would be relative to career growth. Noodle on a few realistic scenarios of how you might work toward achieving your objective.
2. Debrief your guest — It's important that you know the power players, and if you take a guest, they should too. He, or she, is going to reflect directly on you. That can be positive or not.
If possible, tell your guest beforehand a bit about what's going on with your job. When conversations turn to work (and unfortunately they may), it will help if (s)he knows a bit about your life on the job front.
3. Arrive early -- Then make a point of speaking to your boss and/or the event's host. Introduce your guest. Thank the host for having the event. (These things cost money and take time to plan. Recognizing their effort is simply polite — but most won't mention it.)
After more people arrive, you can usually leave early without offending anyone — and still be in your pajamas in time to watch The Daily Show.
4. Be visible — Pick a place to sit where you are going to see and be seen. It's a waste of time to park with a bunch of people at the back of the room, especially if you spend all your time during the workday with them. If you think that decision may offend them, just "cruise" a lot.
Despite what they may say, if you don't think the bosses or the HR folks have an eye on what's going on, you're naive.
5. Nix the narcissism -- Don't presume everyone will remember your name, because it can be uncomfortable for all concerned. When you join others, introduce yourself if there's the slightest doubt that anyone in the group may not recall your name or where you work.
Don't monopolize conversations. Ask open-ended questions and try to engage everyone if you are speaking. Remember these events can be uncomfortable for all, regardless of title or experience.
People (nearly all of us) appreciate it when others take them into consideration.
Finally, at some point in the days after the affair, bosses and HR types will talk about the holiday event. If you've stood out as someone who looks and acts like a promotable individual, it will go a long way to help your career. I know that comment may rub many people the wrong way — but it's life.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.