Though this season is meant to be full of joy and maybe even some downtime, most people feel pressure to attend several professional holiday parties and other obligations, all while meeting family demands and finishing out the year with a bang.
“Holiday gatherings are usually put together as a gesture of ‘thanks’ for professional acquaintances as the year draws to an end. Therefore, people tend to feel obligated to attend each and every event they are invited to out of deference to the host and the fear of potentially offending colleagues,” says founder and CEO of Career Contessa and founder of the podcast, The Femails, Lauren McGoodwin. “While everybody loves some Mariah Carey and bacon-wrapped figs this time of year, you simply cannot say yes to every holiday party that you are invited to.”
You should feel empowered to say no to celebrations to protect your mental and physical health, as well as prioritize balance. This is especially true if you want to perform at your best in the new year. As chief people officer at CareerBuilder, Michelle Armer advises, “If you are vastly over-extended, you will feel stressed and will not be at your best. It’s best to look at your events holistically and prioritize. Professionals can feel liberated by taking the time to consider the up- and downside of passing on certain events, and then make a strategic decision based on what works best for them in the present, and what will be best for them in the future.”
Here’s how to appropriately decline–and still have a jolly ‘ol time:
Express gratitude–and pass quickly
Your office party is happening on a Wednesday, the networking group you’re part of is hosting a happy hour on a Thursday, and your university is having an alum get-together on Friday. Your liver can’t take all three, so you’ll need to forgo attending one. Regardless of which one you decide to skip, Armer suggests deciding and acting quickly. “If you have to pass on an invitation, express sincere gratitude and say no in a timely way. It’s important to show that you care and appreciate the offer,” she explains. You don’t want to delay your RSVP response since many times, food and alcohol budgets are dependent on attendees, and you could end up costing your connection money. It is fine to take a week–but don’t delay any longer.
Write a kind note–but keep it short
So what exactly do you say once you decide you’re not going to attend the 200th-and-something holiday party of a charity you donate to? Kind words, of course–but not paragraphs. McGoodwin explains there is no need for a lengthy excuse, especially when you were never fully committed merely because you received an invite. You might feel as if you’re the only person who is won’t be showing their face–and cocktail attire–but McGoodwin says hosts know their guest list won’t have a 100% attendance. “Let the planner know how appreciative you are for the invite and for your relationship over the past year. Focus on the positive, wish them a happy holiday, and politely decline,” she suggests.
For in-person invites, rehearse your speech
Sending over an email you can write (and re-write) a handful of times is one skill–but being able to decline IRL is another. Sometimes, you’re having dinner with a group of pals when a not-so-close friend haphazardly invites you to their holiday function. You can’t pull out your phone mid-conversation and text ’em “Sorry, but I can’t,” so you’ll need to get comfortable responding politely with your spoken words. The CEO of reacHIRE, Addie Swartz, suggests, as with everything you do in your career, practice will work in your favor. “This may mean rehearsing your response in front of a mirror before you deliver your response in person,” she says. “The time spent in preparing how you will decline the invite and what your excuse will be will do much to ensure that the host will not be offended by your decision not to attend.
Suggest an alternative time to meet
Between moving that Elf on the Shelf every single night for your kiddos and shopping for the best gift for your assistant, you want to make hot toddies with your mentor work, but you’re running out of available days (and frankly, mental stamina). Since you really do want to see people in your professional network you value, Armer suggests throwing out times in January when you have more time, energy, and desire to mingle. “Proactively offer dates and ideas for another time to get together or connect if you have to miss an event. With this approach, you may benefit from additional one-on-one face time for a more meaningful experience on both ends,” she explains. “This also helps show that you care and are interested in taking the time to spend with the event host, even if it doesn’t fit into your calendar on that date.”
Prioritize before accepting
If you are a people pleaser, you might be guilty of accepting an invitation instantaneously, without thinking. For those who are eager to make others happy, McGoodwin suggests responding with a more non-committal response, like, ‘That sounds great! I will check my schedule!’ This will feel more comfortable and natural for you, as you decide if you actually want to attend or not. “This will help you to then narrow down your options and plan a realistic timeline. As the holiday parties get closer, you are then less likely to have overcommitted, freeing you up to attend the gatherings you most want to attend or that you feel are most important for you work-wise,” she adds.
Spread the holiday cheer in other ways
You’re not a Grinch or a Scrooge for wanting to limit your celebrations this season. However, it is still important to recognize the festive season, even if you’re not throwing on an ugly sweater and throwing back shots with your manager. Swartz suggests finding another way to express gratitude and reflect on the year spent. One way to do this is to go old-fashioned and send a handwritten note. “Sending a holiday card is a wonderful way to connect with colleagues and bosses,” she says. ” It may even help to spread the holiday cheer more effectively than sharing eggnog.