The answer: It might be in your best interest professionally to show up. You might want to think of this as an unpaid evening work assignment, or an extra chance to show management that you’re a team player. Here are some things to consider when making this decision.
Is This Your Job, Or Your Career?
If you’re not hoping to be at the job long term, and it’s not in a field where you’re making lots of professional contacts, maybe you can get away with skipping the party. Don’t be too direct or detailed with your excuse here, just stay vague with a “family obligation” or “neighborhood get together.”
But, if this is a long term career, you probably have to make some effort to be sociable. Neurotypicals can get offended when their social advances are rebuffed. You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and your coworkers will trust and help out those with whom they socialize.
Are You the Boss?
The higher you are on the management ladder, the more important your presence will be. As a boss, you have a big impact on your employee’s daily lives. Neurotypical employees will want to introduce their spouse to their boss, but not necessarily the mail room clerk.
Who Wants the Party?
This is different than “Who’s planning the party?” Usually, an admin is assigned the task of putting the party together, but it might be the big boss, or your boss, or the boss you’re hoping to work for next year who’s all excited about it. You don’t want to be labeled by the higher-ups as hard to get along with just because you skipped an evening’s “entertainment.”
Who’s Planning the Party?
Holiday parties are a big job to plan, with venues reserved months in advance. Someone who’s put in hours of effort may feel slighted by your absence. If the planner is someone who works for you, someone with a lot of social power, or someone who helps you out a lot, you really should make the effort to attend.
Who Else is Going?
Ask around and see if everybody is going to be there. The more no-shows, the less obvious your absence will be. But if everybody is showing up except you, the night could turn out to draw a lot of attention your way, and not in a way that will help your career.
Can You Just Stop In?
Some parties involve a solid time commitment, things like a sit down dinner or a harbor cruise. Basically, once you’re at the party, you pretty much have to stay there until the main activity is over. Other events are more open ended, like a cocktail party. With these, it’s easy to drop in, chat briefly with the bosses and your employees, complement and thank the planners, and you’re free to go. Don’t get there too early, aim for the time of peak attendance to get the most impact from your brief appearance.
Whatever your decision, don’t say anything negative about the party, before, during or after. If you do decide to attend the party, check back here for tips on how to manage it.