December 12 2007: 4:41 PM EST
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Avoid office-party regrets

You might feel worse about skipping the office holiday bash altogether than attending and drinking too much, one survey suggests.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

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(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: Please settle an argument. I am a recent (Class of '07) college grad, and since last July have been in the management-training program at a major commercial bank. I really like my job, and rotating through various departments gives me plenty of chances to meet people throughout the company.

The problem is, our division's big holiday party is scheduled for the day I had planned to be on a plane home to spend Christmas with my family. (I'm in North Carolina, they're in Oregon, and I haven't seen them since last May.) So I was planning to skip the party. But several co-workers have told me I'd be better off changing my plane reservations and leaving a day or two later. Are office parties really that important? -Homesick

Dear Homesick: Well... if it's just a matter of flying one day later, then yes, it's worth changing your flight. Especially at this early and critical point in your career, you need all the networking opportunities you can get, and the division holiday party is a huge one.

Don't believe me? Consider what Monster.com found when it polled 2,521visitors to its web site and asked what (if any) regrets they had regarding office holiday parties in the past. The most frequent response, at about one-third (31%) was "not showing up," followed by "drinking too much" (20%), and "arriving late" (18%).

"Office holiday parties are a great venue for entry-level employees to introduce themselves to more senior-level people with whom they wouldn't ordinarily interact," says Mark Charnock, vice president and general manager of MonsterTRAK, Monster's new-grad division. Even though your job affords you opportunities to meet some of these folks, saying hello in a social setting is a good idea - and who knows, you may even enjoy it.

A few do's and don't, based on the further regrets reported by hapless survey respondents:

Avoid being clique-y. "Being both social and professional can be a challenge for anybody," Charnock observes. "Often, junior employees as well as more seasoned colleagues do what is most comfortable for them - that is, go to an office party and socialize only with their friends." But try to see this as a chance to branch out and mingle with people you don't know, too.

Skip any "afterparties." When the official event is over, go home. "Unless co-workers plan to continue their celebration with a very close-knit group of office friends, an after-party gathering can result in office gossip fodder for months to come," says Charnock. Gulp.

Beware of arm-candy dates. If you're encouraged to bring a guest to the big bash, Chernock says, choose wisely. Bring someone who will be up for intelligent conversation with co-workers and higher-ups, "not just someone who looks good in evening wear."

Say "thank you." Remember to thank the organizers of the fete. It will set you apart from the crowd.

While we're on the subject of holiday celebrations, I can't resist passing along a few more survey results, these from the jolly folks at American Express (www.americanexpress.com). First, some cheery news: Almost all (92%) of companies in a recent poll plan to give employees some sort of year-end gift - which should come as a pleasant surprise to lots of workers, since the same poll found that only 64% of them expect to get anything.

And, given their druthers, what kind of gift would employees most like to receive? The poll gave respondents a list of choices, and by far the largest group (44%) picked cash. Extra time off came in second, at 17%, followed by a gift card (15%). "Companywide recognition" didn't fare too well, at only about 7%.

If you're a manager, here's hoping this isn't too dispiriting: "Dinner with the boss" was preferred by fewer than 2% of employees. Notes American Express: "A gift card is nine times more exciting than dinner with the boss." But hey, the survey didn't ask bosses if they wanted to dine with their subordinates, so maybe the feeling is mutual.

Readers, got any regrets about office holiday parties you've attended? And, if your company were to give you a present of your own choosing, what would it be? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog. To top of page

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