Dreading the office Christmas party

The most dreaded event in my social year is the office Christmas party. I loathe the fake camaraderie, the excessive alcohol consumption and the hideous vulgarity of it all. Far from making me bond with my colleagues, it makes me dislike my boss and feel alienated by the drunken behaviour of my underlings.

Last year I vowed: never again. But I wasn’t bargaining for the recession, which has put all our jobs at risk (and has also cut the party budget, which will make the wine filthier than ever). My question is this: if one is interested in holding on to a job, does one have to turn up? Or what counts as a decent excuse?

Senior manager, male, 48

Lucy’s answer

You ask if turning up to the Christmas party helps one hold on to a job. No, of course it doesn’t. Even in the most paranoid times at the most dysfunctional company no one decides who to keep and who to dump on that basis. The main risk posed to one’s career by the Christmas party is not from failing to show up. It is from showing up and then throwing up – or worse.

Yet in spite of this, I still think you should decide to go along, but only if you can adopt a new attitude first.

When I was 48 I used to feel just like you do about Christmas parties. I thought that the office was for working, and that alcohol was for drinking when not working. Put the two together and the mixture is horrible: stilted, embarrassing and potentially calamitous.

However, something odd happened to me at last year’s party to make me change my mind. I talked to a senior manager whom I had previously viewed as impressive yet impersonal, indeed as bordering on sub-human. Yet at the party he was animated, friendly and even quite funny. On subsequent meetings he has reverted to his chilly ways, but as I remember his behaviour at the party I’m inclined to forgive him.

There is a certain sort of person – and I wonder if you are one of them – that is born two drinks short. Only with a couple of glasses of vile plonk inside them do they warm up to normal levels.

 To let both your bosses and your underlings see your soft underbelly (assuming you have one) will not necessarily mean that you keep your job. But it might make all the hardness that is to come a little less unpleasant.
If I have it wrong, and you are beastly even when slightly drunk, then stay home. You won’t be missed.

Dear Lucy

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.

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