I've just started a new job, which I'm enjoying. I recently received an email, asking all employees to choose what they would like to eat at the work Christmas party. I personally would not choose to go to such an event, as I tend to avoid social activities like these, however, the event is during working hours.

I responded to the email (to the sender, not all) asking if the event was optional, to which I was told 'no', and that if I really didn't want to go (I don't), I would have to take the afternoon off as holiday.

This seems unfair to me, and I'm not sure what my options are. I feel I shouldn't have to take holiday to avoid a social event, and I think it's weird that this event even happens within working hours - I should be doing my job instead of attending a social event that I don't care for, and isn't related to my role.

So, my questions is this: is my company allowed to force me to take holiday to avoid the event? If they're not, what should my next course of action be? What can I do to avoid the party?

This is within the UK, at a small company of around 15-30 employees.

The event is being held outside of the office, so no going back to my desk as soon as I can.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Oct 18 at 15:49
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    @jmoreno That question is not even tangentially related to this one. I think you may have pasted the wrong link when voting to close. – David K Oct 22 at 14:34
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    What's the size of the company? In a large company, grabbing the free food, listening to any official pronouncements, and then heading back to your desk and working may be an option. Out of hundreds of employees, no one's going to notice you. In a smaller company, it would be harder to avoid. – RDFozz Oct 22 at 16:59
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    @RDFozz The company is small-ish. Between 15-30 employees. The event is not held in the office, but at a restaurant elsewhere, so I can't go to my desk. – th3no0b Oct 23 at 10:47

14 Answers 14

Unless you actually have a medical condition (e.g. anxiety) which would mean that going to the event is going to be a serious problem for you, just go. If the company chooses to pay you to go to an event, that's their choice. As I've frequently said: you don't get to choose what to do at work, your employer does.

Basically, work out if this is the hill you want to die on.

As to whether this is in your contract or not: it doesn't matter. Playing "rules lawyer" over the exact wording of your contract is pretty much a sure fire way to both severely stunt any career progression and at the same time make your life miserable.

Let me give you an example: I am a senior technical member of my company. We recently had some customers in the office. and our office administrator / receptionist was busy elsewhere. Did I ignore them and go back to my desk, happy that my contract didn't include greeting customers? No, of course I didn't. I showed them to their meeting room, found out what they wanted to drink and made them coffee.

Also recently, my wife was ill and feeling absolutely awful. When I asked my boss if it would be alright if I went home early to look after my children and made up the time in the evening, did he say "No, your contract says your core hours are until 16:30 so you have to work until then". No, of course he didn't - what he actually said was "thank you for telling me, but you don't need to ask". Would he have said that if I were the sort of person who argued about making coffee for customers, or going to a paid for Christmas party? I very much doubt it.

TL;DR: You get what you give. Don't be "that guy" unless you want other people to treat you as "that guy".

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    Unfortunately, this is wisdom that comes with age. I work with a junior and often have to remind him that you get what you give. – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 20 at 8:10
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    I believe Don Savage calls this "good, giving, game". Be a good worker, be giving since you are there anyway, and be game for new things. He's using it in a different context, but nevermind that. – Harper Oct 21 at 19:10
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    I cannot upvote this answer enough, it's a a trap many people (especially developers) fall into and is such an important part in growing your career - sometimes being skilled at your job is simply not enough. – Aphire Oct 22 at 14:19
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    many companies use these "all hands" meetings around the holidays to share information on the future of the company, product plans, celebrate anniversaries, etc. It's not necessarily a 'socializing-only' party. This kind of borderline-hostile reaction to attending a paid-time company event sends up red flags that can ultimately affect many things, like how coworkers and supervisors perceive working with you, your performance reviews, future promotions and potential for rehire. – Maigen Thomas Oct 22 at 17:29
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    Fundamentally, you have answered the question, but I'm going to push back on your TLDR. "You get what you give" is only common wisdom to persons who have not experienced the exact opposite. Every year people are working themselves literally to death under the threat of "What have you done for me lately?" I had two hour commutes, full time work, kids and a handicapped father to care for, and they dragged me to a function on the other side of Houston. It's not about getting what you give, it's about not rocking the boat. – Sean Boddy Oct 22 at 21:55

Yes they are.

You are to report to work as normal. If your work today consists of a Christmas party than so be it. The reason you need to take holiday time is because

  1. This is a team building exercise
  2. It's not a day off

This is quite common and they are allowed to do it. I would just be happy your employer cares enough to give everyone a paid day of no work.

This is a good thing don't make it more than it needs to be. Just go and be nice. If you really don't want to go, ask the sender if you can stay back at office and continue working. Don't for a second think its a day off.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Oct 18 at 16:07
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    I agreed both of the points that mentioned in the answer. IMO attending team building exercise is rather beneficial for the colleagues to bond together especially that the OP is a new member of the company. I believe that these kinds of events are not held frequently so I think its ok to attend such events and enjoy yourself if you don't suffer from some psychological illness or clash with other important personal event. Not to even mention this is held during working hours which mean you still have own personal times to enjoy like usual days. – gitguddoge Oct 24 at 7:00

I'm going to be answering this from a different angle. A lot of times when these types of events happen during the workday they are coupled with some talks given by the higher-ups. They might be congratulating the team on a good year, giving out awards, or talking about the plans for the future. It's not clear from your question, but it could be that this event will have something like this. The holiday dinner may just be tacked on since it is near the holidays, as in if this happened at some other time it would just be an "all-hands" meeting type of thing.

If this is the case it makes a lot more sense why it is mandatory. (Though I agree with the others that it's fair that it is mandatory.)

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    Correct! My previous workplace had a "Company XXX Band". The CEO would pull out electric guitar, the head of sales was a crazy drummer, they would turn it up to 11 and everyone would have a massive party! But first, like you say, they give talks on company direction and results, give out recognition and awards. The whole "party" thing disguised "big boring monthly meeting". PS on company time, from 3pm to 5pm. – vikingsteve Oct 18 at 7:23
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    @vikingsteve - sorry to hear about that. It sounds awful. – Bob Jarvis Oct 19 at 11:30
  • Awful or not, it was LOUD. – vikingsteve Oct 19 at 17:38
  • And even if it is treated as quasi-mandatory but off hours - going there or not going there both have complex social consequences, each can be to your advantage or disadvantage. – rackandboneman Oct 20 at 20:59

I've been in this situation, and if I had to attend I'd just find some quiet side/corner to eat, read, then see if I could head out early. Free food is always handy anyway.

But there is always another option, one that won't make you look bad by skipping off during work hours, and might actually give bonus points. One year the Christmas party was coming up, and I really wasn't in a festive mood. Just so happened we were desperately in need of a hardware upgrade on the server, and the consultants were trying to find a time they could take the system down to work on it. Scheduling downtime was bad, since it would have shut down everything. So I suggested I could stay behind so the upgrade could get done, since everyone would be off the system at the time.

The grumbled a bit, then realized it was the most workable time to do it. The upgrade got done, we didn't have the entire staff sitting twiddling their thumbs, and I avoided the party.

So see if there's some needed downtime work that needs doing, and offer to do it while everyone else is out. Or be the guy who fetches the supplies for the party (so you're away for much of it, but still have made an official appearance).

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    You would -read- during an office party?!? Oy. – George M Oct 18 at 0:46
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    +1 for the free food! Assuming the party is being held at the workplace (which is fairly normal where I've worked) I would just wander in, make sure my presence was noted, then grab a plate and head back to my desk, going back for refills as appropriate. – jamesqf Oct 18 at 2:21
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    @George M Why not read? Or bring a laptop, VPN in and catch up on some work? It help to avoid the unpleasantness of parties and you get some time to work on backlogs without new requests coming in. – Hennes Oct 18 at 17:13
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    @George M Standing in a corner looking at a cell phone is a time-honored party tradition. – Selvek Oct 19 at 19:57
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    If you're only going in order to be ostentatiously anti-social, it might be preferable to not go? From a purely office politics perspective – George M Oct 19 at 20:05

Unless you're objecting on religious grounds (i.e. you're non-Christian) then I suspect you may have social anxiety / social phobia. This is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. It's a real condition that affects millions of people - especially under 40's. It can also be accompanied by / lead to depression and other coexisting conditions.

If you find the thought of socialising, attending parties, etc... extremely uncomfortable then I'd strongly suggest you make an appointment to see your GP and have chat about how you feel. There are very good treatments available these days - in terms of anti-anxiety medications, and other forms of therapy.

But please do go to this event because you'll find the more you start avoiding situations, the harder it is to go back to attending these events even when a part if you wants to. Continuous avoidance means people will just stop inviting you to events - which might sound great to you right now, but down the track you do end up very lonely and isolated, and you end in such an avoidance pattern that you start missing out on landmark life events like weddings, funerals, birthday parties, etc... It's a vicious cycle. Trust me - I've been through it.

And go easy on yourself at the event... small doses. As others suggested, a quiet corner with someone you get along with. Always keep an exit handy if you get overwhelmed or start feeling flustered - even it it means going to the toilet for short breaks, or stepping out to get a bit of fresh air. Plan a bit in advance for these, but DO NOT think about the event itself too much in the leadup to it. Try to distract yourself with things you really enjoy doing. If you catch yourself thinking about it, make a conscious decision to switch that thinking OFF and throw yourself into something else. The day will come and go and be over with before you know it, and these things are rarely as bad as you think they'll be.

And please, speak to your GP if anxiety is the root cause. You're definitely not alone.

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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit is right, I'm not religious at all, but I don't have a problem with attending a religion-based event. Christmas is pretty tightly engrained in English culture and can't exactly be avoided. My problem is the social event. – th3no0b Oct 19 at 9:06
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    That's what I'm saying - it's not a religion-based event. 50% of the time Christmas literally just means "December" and the work party is part of that 50%. A company I used to work for actually called it the "Winter party", but that was less about religion and more about holding it in January to cut costs 😄 – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 19 at 9:18
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    In contrast, some religious-but-non-Christian people do have religious objections to "piss ups". Religious prohibitions on alcohol do exist. – JdeBP Oct 19 at 13:11
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    @YvonneAburrow In Britain 'Christmas' isn't really a religious festival anymore, it's practically an aethiest festival. You still have the odd mention of Jesus and children still do nativity plays, but hardly anyone celebrating it is Christian, they just do it because it's tradition, it's more about presents and getting drunk. It might well have its roots in paganism and/or Christianity, but it's a mere shadow of that now. But in spite of all that it will still be called Christmas, because that's tradition. – Pharap Oct 22 at 9:08
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    @JdeBP And those people just don't drink, and have a good time chatting/eating/dancing without alcohol instead. Not rocket science! – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 22 at 9:20

The fact that you've responded to the email asking about the options limits your options - because the organiser knows that you're seeking options.

So, you suddenly coming up with an illness, overriding project work, or something else will be seen for what it is.

All you can really do is decide whether you want to attend or to take holiday time to avoid it.

These things aren't really that bad, it's a few hours to cope with and you can choose who you want to talk to and leave as soon as is polite to. If you feel you really don't want to spend time with your colleagues, you may as well take the holiday route.

I work in IT for a state office and what you've described sounds exactly like my co-worker (I'll can him John). In the 2 years I've worked with John, he has never attended a single social function to include extended lunch cook-outs and on-the-clock holiday parties. If it's not a mandatory social gathering- he doesn't attend. He's in no danger of getting fired, far from it. Our specific culture is one of acceptance, so from a coworker standpoint it's simply not an issue because he does good work and is reliable in his specialty. So I think your job is safe should you choose to decline such invitations.

Instead of declining- have you examined why your employer may be doing such events in the first place?

The email asking what kind of food to eat I think is unique, because it shows a certain level of empathy. Some people don't want to eat donuts because they are empty calories; or some people are allergic to peanuts, or some people are on a tight budget and want anything other than Ramen noodles again. To some people the reward means more than it does to others. By participating you show that even though it means nothing to you- that you are willing to share in this free gift that brings joy to others. Think about how a free dinner at a fancy restaurant is better shared than going in alone.

Also- concerning your employer. You should be thankful. Some workers don't get free food or parties on-the-clock. Some are held strictly to the rules, get nothing, and are expected to give everything. Some places in the world don't have enough food, forget anything free. Some get yelled at for not working faster/harder. Instead, this employer gives free food and free paid time. At least appreciate the alternative because nothing is forever. You may get a new boss next month that does away with such traditions and enforces strict frugality. I would enjoy this kindness while it lasts.

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    It's odd that you would point to your specific culture of acceptance, and then state that you think his job is safe without knowing if they have a similar culture. Given that they said it was not optional, I would guess that they do not. – Matthew Read Oct 19 at 19:12
  • I'll agree on principle, yet several posters have already described the opposite situation that his job is in jeopardy by not attending. So you would have to point this out as well in fairness that they too have assumed. – Zorkolot Oct 22 at 13:40

This reminds me when my old place of employment had a Bring Your Kids to Work day.

Being single and childless, I felt the entire day was unfair, as parents would be dealing with their kids all day, while I had to work. In fact, one of the parents suggested that minding their kids at work was more work than work itself. Cold comfort for me.

There were various activities planned to go on around the office. I'm not particularly fond of small children, and I really didn't look forward to having to deal with the noise and potential interruptions from them.

The business itself understood that productivity at work would be impacted for that day. I'm sure management had the reasons for the day. It is, of course, their prerogative to decide how their workers should spend their time on-the-clock.

Because I had a good working relationship with my manager, I mentioned them that I was feeling a little ill the day before, and they gave me a wink and a nod, and said "I suppose you'll be a little bit unable to make it tomorrow". And I simply took the day off work as sick leave.

I am unsure what UK law is regarding non-sick leave, but in Australia companies are able to veto leave requests if the business needs the employee to work. It seems your boss is open to letting you take the day off as a holiday, which is good. If the UK employment contracts are like those in Australia he doesn't have to. Sick leave is another story however...

If you have a medical reason why the social event would be inappropriate for you to attend, such as a social anxiety disorder, you should communicate with your boss. He may be able to organise an amended schedule for you where you are not required to attend the social elements, but still attend for any presentations etc. I would be a bit careful with this option, as it may hinder advancement opportunities down the line.

Otherwise I would attend. If you want to keep your personal life private, that is all under you control. If gatherings I've been to are an indication, there will be a lot of people that just want to talk about work and nothing else.

Besides suggesting you do go, like most other answers I'll try to answer your question about your employer forcing you to take a day off.

The answer is, check your contract. My contract says that my employer is allowed to force me to take 2 days of a year for special occasions. So for example when the office will be unavailable due to renovations I can be forced to take that day off. So if your contract includes this thing, then yes, they can force you to take a holiday to avoid the event.

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    There are 3 days of holiday that I have to take a year, the three days between Christmas and New Year. – th3no0b Oct 19 at 8:25
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    Showing up at the office when no one else is there except for the construction workers is totally different from sitting at one's desk while the rest of the workers are in the party room following management's instructions. Management isn't forcing OP to take the day off in this situation. That's what OP will elect to do because he doesn't want to do the work management expects that day. – Beanluc Oct 19 at 22:44

Attending company gatherings like this are indeed a part of your “role” as an employee of a company.

In the end, what is more important to you: Feeling comfortable for a fraction of one work day in a year, or the other 260-ish days per year you will truly just be working?

First, lots of solid answers here. But you state:

…I think it's weird that this event even happens within working hours - I should be doing my job instead of attending a social event that I don't care for, and isn't related to my role.

This is an event that happens during working hours, and nobody else will be “working” but instead be at this social event. You are a member of a team of employees at a company that are expected to work together. Attending a holiday party is indeed a part of your work.

Simply being “heads down” at a desk is not the whole job you were hired to do. Human beings—in general—want to work with others who work with them. And the “deep dark” secret about holiday parties like this? Utterly nobody likes them! But they are—for the most part—one of the few times a company gets together as a group. Your “work” during this party is to simply deal with it.

And my advice to you if you hate being a part of this is you should not have responded to the email the way you did. You should simply say “Yes!” show up, mingle, eat some food, drink a drink and then… Maybe like 45 minutes later, just leave. Simple as that.

In addition to the above excellent answers (+1'd)

This company is offering to pay your contractor rate for you to attend a Christmas party, which means you'll be fed and maybe eligible for prizes. If they say attendance is mandatory that means you can bill them.

So what's the problem?

You'll need to spell out in excruciating detail your reasons for not wanting to be paid to eat with your co-workers at a social event. My guess is that if you weasel out of this for whatever creative reason then the company is going to interpret this as you are not a good social fit for them, which puts the tenure of your contract at risk.

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    OP implies that he's a paid employee and not a contractor. The "contract" you see in the comments relates to the employment contract. – Snow Oct 17 at 16:16
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    @Snow - Thanks. I read contract and interpreted that as contractor. – Jim Horn Oct 17 at 16:32
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    Yes, I'm a salaried employee not a contractor. – th3no0b Oct 19 at 8:37
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    Why should the OP have to spell anything out in excruciating detail. If this is a case of social anxiety then why should it be such an issue for everyone else and why should the OP be pushed into a very uncomfortable corner and be made to “explain themselves”. It’s just a dumb work party FFS. – webwrx Oct 21 at 4:25
  • @webwrx - Basic requirements elicitation. Asker says he'd rather not attend but doesn't spell out why in sufficient detail to provide an detailed answer. Could be any number of issues. – Jim Horn Oct 22 at 15:28

Your company can consider this party as a business-related activity within the company grounds, so basically, if you don't want to go, they have no choice but to let you take a holiday leave for what is basically avoiding work.

On the flip side, you'll be getting paid to attend a small social event at work. I say just bear it and grin.

Consider this. It's compromising your non-preference of these events for just that day vs. potentially establishing a negative reputation among your workmates for being "that guy" just so you get your way, that, and it also costs you a holiday leave.

I think it also depends on how big the company is.

I worked for one company where there were 10 employees. To celebrate Christmas, employees and their spouses were invited to a weekend away. It worked out about £300 per employee. For a small company this was quite a significant expense. One year, one employee and his wife were booked to come and didn't turn up. I had a conversation with the boss' wife who was concerned about the wasted money.

Another company I worked for had 200 employees and organised a BBQ in the car-park one afternoon. Lots of food, beer and chats.

In the first case, it's a few hundred £££ wasted (and personally I would feel bad for the company). In the 2nd case, 1 person saying they would turn up and didn't (or sloped off early before eating) makes virtually no difference.

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    How is any of this an answer? And why does company cost have anything to do with it? – JakeGould Oct 22 at 18:06

I think you are confusing not working Christmas party with not working day.

When the sender say "isnt optional", mean you still have to be at the office, otherwise half of the employees will stay at home sleeping and would be a very lonely party.

If you dont want be at the party you can go sit on your desk and work, bring a book to read. He isnt asking you to be there as master of ceremony.

If you want to stay at home then you need to take a day off because that is still a working day even if the rest of people isnt working.

Just because you dont like something (the party) doesnt mean the company have to give you something else (day off)

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