Is it OK to turn down an official holiday office party or are you expected to attend?

I choose not to attend the annual Xmas party this year and want to know if my boss will resent me for it.

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    Most folks will accept "sorry, family obligations" or "really had to finish up something for work" or "had a hot date." Office party really can't compete with any of those. – keshlam Dec 25 '15 at 1:27
  • Family obligation is the best excuse of the above suggested ones. – Learner_101 Dec 25 '15 at 2:01
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    I assume your question is, "What is the proper etiquette for declining an office holiday party invitation?" or something similar to that... – Jim Dec 25 '15 at 2:43
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    Without country/geographical location this question is unanswerable - unless you want to sum up conventions all-over-the-world - and then the question will be closed as 'too broad'. – user8036 Dec 25 '15 at 13:11
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    Turning down an office party due to "family obligations" seems to be the way to go. I mean, if your boss resents you for taking family time during the holidays, is that really such a good place to work? – capybara Dec 25 '15 at 14:20

Is it OK to turn down an official holiday office party or are you expected to attend?

That depends almost entirely on the office culture and other contextual points.

In some shops (particularly larger shops), a significant number of people don't attend, and nobody cares or even notices much.

In some shops (particularly very small shops), not attending would be noticed.

It also depends on who you are within your company. The absences of someone in top management tends to stick out more than a worker. Many folks on a team could notice if their boss doesn't show up, while only the boss might notice is one person on the team isn't there.

Some companies hold parties during office hours. The understanding is that this makes it easier to attend, and thus attendance may be more expected, than if the party were held after hours.

Only you can know if your boss will resent you for this or not. Or, you might ask your peers and see how many of them plan to attend, and get a sense of importance for your attendance.

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I like Joe's answer as a general response: with large companies, you get lost in the crowd. With small companies, your absence may be obvious. However, a brief follow-up conversation after an office party can make things go smoothly either way. However, it really doesn't address etiquette in how to handle an office party invitation and post-party relations.

As for etiquette, fundamentally you would not be invited to a party if the host/hostess does not want you there. If you have other plans already, any good host/hostess should be understanding of a commitment you've made prior to knowing about their event. Turning down an invitation without reason is not generally accepted as polite.

Likewise, it is generally rude to cancel prior plans when you "get a better date" even if it is an office party. Once you commit to plans it is acceptable to keep them. If you have no plans, it is rude to ask if you "should attend" since an invitation is an explicit indication of that. You should never pretend to have plans, as I will explain.

The best way to determine how sincere your invitation is to the boss before the event is to ask about a possible conflict due to unresolved planning. For example, "Hey, I was discussing other plans with (family/friends) when the holiday party was announced and the preferred date is on the same day. If the office party is an important event, please let me know before my other plans are finalized."

Regardless, if you decline the invitation then a host/hostess that expected/sincerely wanted your attendance at an event will either A) ask about your event because they sincerely missed you at their event or B) may politely wait for you to ask how the event went since you expressed "regrets" that you could not attend. This is polite because you are taking into consideration their effort to invite you, and the language for turning down an invitation is generally, "I regret that I cannot attend."

So mentioning your regrets that you could not attend and an interest in their event helps demonstrate your appreciation for the invitation and sincerity of your regrets that you were unable to attend. Also, this may include some description of how you enjoyed your prior commitment. This is why you should not turn down an invitation and not have plans; if you don't have plans, just be prepared for this situation. Someone that really cares about your attendance will want you to know that you were missed, and that usually leads to more involved discussion about your personal time.

And if your boss didn't really care about your attendance, then your "I'm sorry I missed the office party, how was it?" and "I had a really great time catching up with my family/spending time with long-time friends/etc." will go virtually unnoticed in course of daily conversations.

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