I dread the end of the year. There are endless office parties and niceties that, although technically optional, feel mandatory. For example, I am invited to my department’s holiday party, the company-wide holiday party, and another product team’s holiday party. Both my team’s and my product team’s parties require that I bring a $25 grab bag gift. In addition, one coworker is collecting donations of new clothing and toys for needy families in the community, while another is taking up a collection to purchase a gift for our boss. This is overwhelming to me. I know that I am not obligated to participate in any of this, but I feel like I’m being pressured into it. How do I tactfully and professionally opt out?
The end of the year can be a stressful time. Between the personal demands of family and friends, and closing out the year’s business, many people can feel that they are stretched to their breaking points. You are absolutely correct in that none of these activities are mandatory. But the reality is that you should participate in at least some of your company’s holiday activities. If you can participate in only one activity, you should go to your department’s party. Those with whom you work most closely will be there, as will, presumably, your direct manager. Yes, you need to pony up and purchase a $25 gift. Look at it instead as $25 spent for the opportunity to network with your peers in a less formal setting.
Because you mention multiple office parties, I’m assuming that you work for a somewhat large company. While I’m sure the company-wide party will be very nice, it will also be much larger than your department’s party. There will be less opportunity for meaningful networking, and there will be more people there who you don’t know than who you do know. As far as the party with the other product team goes, you have no obligation to show up. Respectfully decline the invitation.
Gifts for coworkers…this can be a sticky subject. You have a set dollar amount, so you know how much you should spend. Some other things to consider are the appropriateness of the gift, as well as its usefulness. You needn’t get a gift for use or display at the office, either. Think of gifts that almost anyone can use, and that most people like. Avoid the usual gifts of scented candles, liquor, or baked goods. Instead, think about something like smart phone accessories, flashlight kits, or gift cards. When in doubt, a gift card or a donation to a charity makes a great gift.
You are absolutely NOT obligated to buy a gift for your boss. While not inappropriate, purchasing a holiday gift for your manager can put everyone involved in an awkward position. Just say no. As far as the coworker collecting new items for local families in need, you do not have any obligation to participate in that. Most people already donate within their own communities, and your coworker is probably aware that she’s asking for donations from people who’ve already contributed to similar causes.
The bottom line is this. . . pick an appropriate gift and go to your department’s party. Self-impose a two drink limit and have a conversation with someone with whom you don’t typically interact. It is a small bit of effort and you will be seen as a team player.
All my best,