Education

Five tips for using the holiday party to get ahead

It's that time of year again, and companies of all sizes are having a staff "party." People everywhere are debating whether they'll attend. In this article, John M. McKee says this decision is a no-brainer.

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.

Party on....

John

Leadership Coach

About

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 d...

26 comments
GSG
GSG

I'd rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than stand around and watch people be drunk and obnoxious and make a big deal about the fact that I'm not drinking alcohol. I'll drink my water or diet soda, thanks. Luckily, I don't work at a place where this is expected, or even encouraged. We have a lunch at work, and call it done.

Grigney
Grigney

RE: #2 Debrief your guest...that would be "Brief you r Guest", unless a little hanky-panky prior to the party is at hand. (Debrief is for AFTER the event).

Englebert
Englebert

...not in the computer business, much as you enjoy interacting with your computer. Go and interact, but do so genuinely, dont fake it. It's the festive season, enjoy yourself. Also, it's amazing what tid-bits of info you'll pick up. Here's some other points I'd like to add : - Gently ease into a conversation, dont barge in. - Make sure you introduce yourself - Spend an appropriate amount of time with people. It's better to know 5 new people well, than rush past 20 superficially - Try not to talk and eat at the same time. - Smile, be pleasant, dont complain, avoid controversial subjects, wish people before leaving and have an enjoyable evening.

Economix
Economix

I think your poll missed one response - "yes, but I'm still not excited to go"

dallastokyo
dallastokyo

What would you do if there's a company sanctioned end of year party, but it's not company funded? In my case, they're asking for $65 for each employee and another $65 if we bring a guest. There may be some politics involved whether I like it or not, but I think I'm going to decline the event.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm going this year primarily to get a free meal. I'm not interested in advancing my career, so the tips above and the political considerations don't matter to me. I don't think it's a political event at our company; we've only recently started having them again after several years of not doing so. I've skipped the last couple simply because neither my wire nor I normally enjoy parties. 'Seeing and being seen' is NEVER on my list of seating considerations. In late December I'm motivated by the spot closest to the heating vents or fireplace. Unlike some who have goals for this type of event, I already work with senior management on a daily basis. I'm not looking at a once-a-year opportunity to make an impression. For the second year, it's being held at one of the local zoo's conference rooms. I'm there to eat, socialize, and to see the zoo's Christmas lights displays for free (an $8 savings each). If anyone attempts to 'work' me, I'll make it bluntly clear that's not why I'm in attendance; maybe widdle on their shoes. If we don't enjoy it, I certainly won't have any qualms about declining the next four or five. Why would a date be necessary? And I feel for the people who searching for the option to vote, "Yeah, I'm going, but I'd rather do my own root canal with a rusty corkscrew and a bottle of Jack Daniels."

JamesRL
JamesRL

I certainly wouldn't look upon the evening as an opportunity to score points, unless I was one of the organizers. We managers would like to feel this is an opportunity to for a time loosen up and break down the barriers. I would not feel comfortable with one of my staff coming up to me and trying to suck up. In fact that would be a red flag with most of the managers here. There are minefields to avoid though. Drinking too much, to the point where it is not safe to drive is frowned on, but what is worse is driving anyway - we try to see those situations and do something about it. I have had memorable conversations with some of the spouses, most very pleasant, and some quite distasteful. One should refrain from voicing strident political opinions especially if one is a guest and doesn't know the players and the landscape. I do agree its good form to thank the hosts, and that can mean the senior managers who are paying for it, and the organizers who sweated over it. I usually take the time to spend time with some of the people I don't see in person - the sales staff, and some people who work from home. I don't really see the need to hang with the people I see every day for the entire evening, though you do have to acknowledge them. At these events, I'd rather talk about non business stuff, families, hobbies, current events than business. I spend enough time on business, and it usually bores the spouses/guests.

szwdv
szwdv

If you are in a large industry and there is a company Christmas Party where thousands of people might attend, then it really is up to you if you want to attend. Most of these parties are a way for the company to thank the employees and also to have fun in the process.Also, when the number of people attending get this big, no one will even notice if you were there. But If the event is smaller like a Business unit or section Christmas Party where ,like people above mentioned, you need to pay out of your pocket. It would be wise to attend if you have the extra cash. It shows you care about the company enough and IS a team player. You don't need to suck up to anyone, Just be there!!! Like Englebert put it best ...Ultimately, you're in the people business...

throuble
throuble

I absolutely would not go if I were made to pay for the event. I'm not much for allowing others to decide for me how I will spend my money, especially not those from whom I have worked hard to earn it. I can understand if some facets of the event are "cash only", such as a bar, but these should be optional items which won't stop me from enjoying my evening. Lastly, there's no point in going unless I truly enjoy the company of at least a few of my co-workers.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Things I wanted to be at. Frag shucking out $65. Do they also expect you to pay to show up at work?

Brent4001
Brent4001

Dallastokyo, I am one of the lucky few at my workplace tasked to put the 'sweat' part of the equation into this years holiday party. As it stands, the party is exactly what you're describing and I get 'atmospherics' from the senior leadership on how they are approaching the issue. At least in my organization, we are trying to mitigate the cost for lower income employees so the $65 per person drops down to say... $12 and the collective higher ups absorb the difference. That said, are you even 'kinda' part of that seniors group that can afford the $130 to attend without dropping a present off the Christmas lists? If so, my company climate would expect you to be there. However, if you're finding $130 a serious investment for what you bring in from your work then you should gauge the decision on how the party is being advertised. Again, my workplace and 'CEOs' are putting a lot of time and energy into subsiding the cost, so the whole workplace is essentially expected to be there. If that isn't the case and your leadership is not engaged into making it easy to be there then you should be fine with being equally unengaged.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We went. Arrived at the reserved conference room about 15-20 minutes into the 4-hour affair, ate noshies for ten minutes, then walked around the zoo for forty or so. When we returned to the room, the DJ had started. Since we couldn't hear each other without yelling, we promptly left.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Give me a break. Office parties are unpaid overtime of the most unpleasant kind. I show up because of irrational belief that someone could be offended if I don't. I come early to get noticed, sulk in the corner for a while, and, as soon as possible, sneak out when nobody is watching.

jfaletra
jfaletra

As a manager myself I agree.

Brent4001
Brent4001

James, I think you present a very wise viewpoint on this whole topic. The polorizing nature of office parties period(the author in the 'go with a mission' stance and the opposing viewpoint from Foggier) really comes down to a reflection of how you view your job altogether. James really highlights the fact that it doesn't matter if you are aggressively seeking 'points' in your current job or not. In either case, you're in the job you're in and you choose to show up each day. That baseline commitment should follow through with office parties. Make a showing and your viewpoint towards your job will show through. At the very worst, you can stay under the radar and avoid naysayers from damaging your current status at the workplace.

gechurch
gechurch

I was worried when I read the article title. I was expecting a bunch of tips for "playing politics". Thanksfully none of these were about playing politics at all. In fact, you can forget that fact that the topic is the company dinner; most of these tips are preaching being a decent, appreciative human being. Of course, that won't stop people posting comments here that they hate these things and how unfair it is that people get ahead by going to them. They make it sound like interacting with people in your company, particularly those higher up, is a form of selling your soul! The reality of course is that interacting with people is an important part of any job. The most important part for many jobs. If you ignore that you are missing out on the chance to be a better employee. You can pick-up a lot of company-specific information at these events, and you can have an intoduction to people that it may be useful to know for your job. I don't mean "people that will give you a promotion" by that comment. I mean people you may need to deal with. People you may need to approve a project, or test, or whatever. Thanks for the article. To those compaining, I say stop it for a moment and take a real look at your situation. It's easy to say "oh, he got that promotion because he sucked up to the boss at the Christmas party". It's a lot harder to look at yourself and admit that, maybe, just maybe he is a better employee because he has a better understanding of the company as a whole, and he is able to communicate well to get things done. People who sit back, complain, and avoid interacting with others are rarely useful employees.

Foggier
Foggier

This is obviously written by one who has reached the executive ranks by company politics. (That doesn't imply any lack of job performance, just that one's job performance is tailored and sold to certian individuals, preferentially.) If that's what you want, fine. But for the workers down here in the "weeds and seeds", going to a "party" isn't the same as going to a networking event. We all know that going to these things and schmoozing is the way business politics works, and we know that businesses (like the government) run on politics. If getting "ahead" (i.e., making more money) is more important than doing a good job and keeping your integrity (and doing right by your people)--that's your choice. Just not mine.

pivert
pivert

I was so fed up with how things went that I skipped a year. 3 years later I still get comments on that. "Oh yes, that's right, you weren't there." So they may say they don't look at who and what they do, but they do take mental notes during the whole evening. And the weeks that follow, I hear a lot of "at the party I heard that...". I hate the stuff...

random2010
random2010

Don't take this response too seriously ;-) Maybe the humour is only apparent to readers in the UK, but some of the phrasing in this article made me smile: - 'Debrief your guest'.. Oh, so its that sort of party, if I take my wife as a guest I'd better warn her that its all essential for progressing my career. - 'Cruise a lot'.. Can't do that if I take my wife along, it will cause ructions. - 'Rub many people the wrong way'.. Ok thats a familiar experssion in the UK, but readers of Viz magazine will be mentally adding 'fnar, fnar'. To offer a serious reply, I would suggest that anyone who finds 'forced fun' to be no fun at all should not attend unless they are good a actor capble of successfully faking it.

nwallette
nwallette

If the company doesn't have overhead funds to support an event like this, then why bother at all? I sincerely do appreciate the expense and effort to plan these -- I often volunteer to DJ, as I have tons of pro audio gear sitting at home anyway -- but, for many (including me!) I'm looking to avoid "unnecessary" expenses this time of year. $130 would ensure that I have other plans. If that meant I stepped on some company toes, sorry, you're doing it wrong. If it's not kosher to not show up, it's called "mandatory" and should be paid-for in full, or expensed.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As one of the complainers, I agree with your statement. I'm complaining about the expectation that attendance is an unwritten mandate to be fulfilled outside normal working hours. If it's part of my job, it should be done during the work day and I should be paid.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

Can't you network at the party AND maintain yout integrity in the workplace? I suggest that while both have value in there own way, either one without the other is likely to slow yout career.

jfaletra
jfaletra

I detect a hint of synicism in your reply. Have you considered that these events are a great way to get to know people outside of the workplace as well? There are ALWAYS folks trying to get a leg up at functions, and, in the networking groups that I am a part of, similar things happen. in fact, many are fishing for jobs and are far more fake than at a holiday party. Go to your party, have a good time, get to know your co-workers significant others. Have fun.

BubbaGlock
BubbaGlock

Couldn't have said it any better Fog.

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