Don’t Get Drunk at the Holiday Party. Better Yet, Don’t Go

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Lately I’m reading a lot of surveys and tip sheets from HR experts about holiday parties and gift-giving: how many offices are having them (a shrinking number), what behavior to watch out for (don’t get drunk–just don’t), to what degree they torture employees (off the charts).

Turns out holiday parties can also be lawsuit magnets. and Harris Interactive found in its recent poll that 29% of workers have experienced or observed sexual advances by coworkers at the year-end gathering. Just 12% say employers stow car keys or otherwise try to curb drunken driving; fewer than one in three say workers are offered cabs or other means of getting their drunken selves home. In fact, only one in four knew their party hosts are legally liable should an accident occur following a vodka-drenched event.

Which leads me to wonder: if holiday parties are so hateful and fraught with career-wrecking landmines, why do we bother showing up? We don’t, according to a survey I got today by staffing company Spherion and Harris Interactive. Though 58% of workers say their employers are throwing holiday bashes, about that many–57%–say the parties are “not important” to them, and only 46% say they feel obligated to attend.

The younger you are, the more obligated you feel: 32% of workers aged 18 to 24 and 40% of those 25 to 29 say they’ll go, compared to 21% of those between 50 and 64. Lisa’s theory #1: Younger workers don’t yet understand that office parties are less likely to resemble the one on last week’s “Ugly Betty,” with romantic coworkers and supermodel guests in lingerie, than they are to identically echo the one on “Office Space,” where drab people glumly eat cake. Lisa’s theory #2: Open bar.

The less you earn, the more you value the holiday party. This makes sense: your boss owes you that free cake, man.

Speaking of owing you, a survey released today by BNA and Kronos found that employers will spend more on those holiday parties: $7,000 on average, up from $5,000 in 2005. That’s $36 a head on average.

Seriously? Just give me the cash. My chances are good: the BNA survey also found more employers–49%–plan to dole out year-end bonuses and gifts this year, up from 40% last year. I’m waiting. That $36 might cover the gift wrapping.