Group of business people enjoying party and clinking glass of champagne and wine together at Christmas party.
Image: © Mongkolchon/

Should CEOs attend their office Christmas parties?

17 Dec 2019

Leadership consultant Shane Cradock explains whether or not company leaders should attend the Christmas party, and how to navigate it.

Whether we embrace it or dread it, the office Christmas party is something many of us receive an invite to every year.

For some, it could be the one time of year where they encounter alcohol and their boss in the same room. We spoke to leadership consultant Shane Cradock to learn more about navigating that potentially tricky scenario.

Why are Christmas parties important in general for employees, do you think?

Employees may not always say it but some form of gathering is important – not just for the employees but for management also. It’s a useful time to step out of the busyness and socialise with the people you tend to spend most of your working day with. Business can be very serious and doing anything that lightens the mood is useful.

It’s also a psychological end to the year and can be a great way for staff to get closure on the year that was and get ready for the year ahead.

A professional man in business attire is looking into the camera in an office setting.

Shane Cradock. Image: ClearStory International.

Should a CEO attend, in your opinion?

A CEO should definitely attend, unless there is a very valid reason not to. But they don’t have to stay for the entire night. Indeed, it’s probably better for them and the employees if they don’t – especially as alcohol levels rise over the course of the evening.

The presence of the CEO is an important statement. You are the leader of the organisation and so, in a way, you are a symbol to the team, and if you don’t attend, your absence could be misinterpreted in various ways. And don’t be offended that the real party will probably begin when you leave!

I’ve worked with a few socially awkward CEOs who hated the Christmas party. I helped them to reframe it – and to see it as a great opportunity to energise the team. It gives you as the leader a great chance to connect with people on a different level. Any words of encouragement or recognition from the CEO are worth gold and the Christmas party is a superb opportunity to share some comments privately or in a group and also drop in words of encouragement for the coming year.

Do you have any tips for CEOs planning to attend their work Christmas parties?

The best rule of thumb is the three CEO Christmas party rules:

  1. Drink very little: It’s too easy to make mistakes with alcohol – if you drink, minimise it
  2. Connect with everyone: Make a point of having a few words with everyone there if possible – small things like this go a long way, especially with staff you don’t normally get time with
  3. Stay long enough but be the first to leave: Others will get messy as the night goes on – best not to be there.
What about for employees who might be nervous about attending a social event with their boss?

Face the fear and go to the party anyway. Relationships are a key part of the business world and it’s an opportunity to see a different side of the boss. Plus, optics matter and while you may not always be noticed there, it’s noticed when you’re not there.

Everyone wants to enjoy the Christmas party but be warned that many careers can be ended by saying or doing the wrong thing over the course of the evening. And usually because of alcohol. So, if you’re serious about your career, watch what you consume!

There is always someone who just doesn’t seem to realise that the management is always watching. What you do at company events does matter. I’ve worked with CEOs who have written off executives just because of poor behaviour at company events like the Christmas party. Indeed, I know people who have been fired. Not the best Christmas present to get!

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