Almost every year, my office's holiday party is scheduled to take place the weeknight before my biggest deadline of the year. And, as before, I'm planning on skipping the party. Apparently, this annoys some of my co-workers, who in previous years have sent me all-caps emails urging me to attend.

The thing is, even if I do find the time to make it to the party, I will probably be so preoccupied with the next day's work that I can't imagine being very good company. But I'm painfully aware that it looks bad for me not to go. Although I get along well with most everyone, my job requires a great deal of concentration in an open-plan office, and so I'm not always as friendly and approachable as I should be at work.

So do I try to attend and make the best of it, even if my presence doesn't add much? Or do I just live with my co-workers' disapproval? The party venue is very close - easily walking distance.


A: Ordinarily, deciding whether to attend a social event boils down to one question: Do you want to go? (I'm guessing you don't - call it a hunch.)

But a work event is no ordinary social event - especially if your absence will be noticed.

We make many job-related decisions at odds with our druthers. We may fantasize about telling off irritating colleagues or wearing our cozy unicorn onesie to work - but in the end, most of us refrain after thinking about what that might cost us in reputation and opportunities.

So do a deeper cost-benefit analysis and focus on what you personally stand to gain or lose.

First: Will it do you harm to go? If attending the party will be harmful to your health - say, you suffer from breakdown-inducing social anxiety or are genuinely too pooped to party - skip it. If attending will prevent you from meeting your deadline, sometimes work just has to come first - but at least let your boss know you're not being deliberately antisocial. (Bonus: It might inspire them to plan next year's soiree at a better time for everyone.)

If you determine that attending won't do you harm, the next obvious question is: Will it do you good?

First, the more intense the project, the more vital it is to come up for air. Presumably, you would at least be taking a break for dinner. Why not enjoy that dinner on your employer's dime?

Second, investing an hour of friendly chitchat could pay big dividends in goodwill when you're back at the grindstone. Not that you should feel shamed by your colleagues' shouty emails, but I can't help thinking maybe they just want to see more of you. And don't fret about being less than scintillating company. Just keep your hands to yourself and your feet out of the punch bowl, and all they'll remember is that you were there.


Final tally, assuming no hidden costs to your well-being: Taking a needed break plus getting fed plus building camaraderie equals an hour well spent.

- Karla L Miller's weekly column for the Washington Post offers advice on workplace dramas and traumas.