(Photo from Pixabay)
It’s December. That means inevitably that offices across the globe will be throwing parties for their staff. This is a Nice Thing, but office Christmas parties are notorious for making people behave in ways they never normally would, and then generating gossip that circulates the office for days, sometimes months (years at my previous employer for one particular party).
Office Christmas parties are also a special kind of hell for those of us who are introverts, or aren’t good in social situations or don’t like to drink to excess. If you work in an office of extroverts and people who are always up for a boozy night out, the office Christmas party can be overwhelming and, for some, a little distressing.
So how do you survive an office Christmas gathering as an introvert? What do you do if everyone around you is drunk and all you want to do is go home? Nightmare, right? Not necessarily!
You don’t have to go
If the thought of the office party fills you with dread, you don’t have to attend. If people push you as to why, just say you’ve got a conflicting commitment. If they push you further, remain vague about why you can’t go – ‘I already have plans that day’ is fine. Most reasonable people will accept that you’re already booked to do another thing, even if it is an evening in with your cat watching Netflix. That’s still plans.
If your office makes attendance mandatory, then your office sucks. Enforced ‘fun’ is never actually fun, and a lot of offices don’t realise that social situations can be really overwhelming for some people. If you do work somewhere where attendance is mandatory, and you know you might panic if you do go, speak to whoever is organising the party or even HR. Not going somewhere is far preferable to having a panic attack on the night. Speak up. It’s okay not to want to party.
Leave early if it gets too much
UK parties follow a pattern. The meal happens, people start to drink, and then after the meal they drink more, and then the disco happens. This is usually when people, in my experience, start to get silly and the introvert in the room wishes they could go home.
You can. Just leave. You’ve shown your face and had some free food, so go when you feel you’ve reached the limit of your comfort level. It’s advisable to take your own car to these events, which not only means that you can make a hasty exit, it stops you from drinking and means you stay aware and don’t end up in a situation you don’t want to be in.
And speaking of alcohol…
Don’t drink too much
A lot of introverts, myself included, find that if we drink, we start to ‘loosen up’. By all means have a couple of glasses if you want (and you’re not driving), but it’s never okay to get completely wasted in a setting where management can see you. Managers remember. HR remembers. I’ve seen people disciplined for what happened at the office party. I’ve also seen people get away with appalling behaviour without even a reprimand, so I guess it depends on your office culture.
Stick with your friends
Everyone has office buddies, and if they’re good buddies, they should know you well enough to understand that maybe the party situation might be a bit much for you. If there’s a seating chart for the meal, ask if you can be seated with them. Maybe ask your best office buddy if they can keep an eye on you to make sure you’re okay until you leave, and let them know when you do leave so they don’t worry. Your friends should look out for you. Don’t be afraid to tell them when it’s getting too much.
Tell people you had a good time if they ask you
This may be a total lie and you might have hated it, but saying ‘oh yes, it was really good’ when people ask you what you thought about the party is a nice default response. Nobody needs to know that you were freaking out slightly.
Speak up if something bad happened
If it really was awful, for whatever reason (someone threw up on you, the CEO tried to goose you or Clive from Accounting started getting his shirt off), let someone know. But do it privately – it’s likely that any bad behaviour would have been clocked anyway, so HR or management will already be aware, but any incidents that happened directly to you, and that made you feel uncomfortable, should be reported. It’s your employer’s responsibility to make sure that all their employees are happy, and if something happened at the party which didn’t (and I mean really bad, not just ‘I don’t like being round drunk people’) then someone should know and deal with it.
Do enjoy any Christmas parties you go to, introverts. And remember, it’s okay not to stay till the bitter end, it’s okay not to drink, and it’s okay to be thinking about getting home to Netflix and your cat the whole evening. In fact, getting home might be the best part of the whole night for you. Whatever happens, have fun!