No matter how unenthusiastic you may be, going to your office holiday party is a good career move. Even if you'd much rather stay home and watch It's a Wonderful Life for the 11th time, the office holiday party can be important to your career and pay off in the following ways:
1. It might be unofficially mandatory. You might think that your company party is an optional treat, but many managers take note of who does and doesn't attend—and will penalize those who don't, either subtly or openly. Even managers who claim the parties are truly optional do care at some level if you don't show up, so you're generally wise to assume that this might be a professional obligation like any other.
2. You'll get to know people in other areas of the company. At larger companies in particular, there are plenty of people who you normally never have the chance to interact with—and chatting with them can be the main perk of the holiday party. Getting to know the CEO's assistant, the head of accounting, or that guy in IT can pay off later in all kinds of ways (even if it's just the guy in accounting looking the other way when you turn your expense report in late or the IT guy telling you how to fix your home computer).
3. You can raise your visibility with audiences that matter to your career. Because most company parties mix all levels of the company hierarchy in ways that don't often happen at other times of the year, you'll have a prime opportunity to network with the people who make decisions about your career. Take advantage of it by introducing yourself to company leaders who you normally don't run into. Those relationships can pay off in the future if you're trying to build support for a project or a promotion. Just make sure that you raise your visibility in the right way—by being smart and engaging, not by being the drunk guy who stumbles into them on your way back from the bathroom.
4. You might have fun. In fact, it's in your best interest to try to have fun. If you're seen moping in the corner the whole night, you cancel out most of the benefit of attending. If you see your job for the night as being sociable with your colleagues, you might discover you have a better time than you expect to.
If you're still not convinced, remind yourself that it's just a couple of hours once a year. You can handle that in exchange for not being known as the one person in your department who doesn't accept the company's invitation for a night out. Besides, you can always come late, and if you're miserable, leave early. But at least make an appearance.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.