Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Office Christmas Party: An Outdated Waste of Money or a Truly Good Time?

I wonder about this. Read this article today and it did get me to thinking about the first & last time I went to an office Christmas party for a job I worked at.

That was in 2003 when I worked at a mid-sized law firm in Atlanta as an eviction referral paralegal. I've said before it was a good place to work since the higher ups actually cared about employee morale & doing right by those with families (such as offering flexible schedules for employees so they could pick up their kids from school). That party was a LOT of fun for me & a great send off before I moved to CT for law school. I think it was fun for a few reasons:

1. I liked the people in my department & never had issues with them. My problems were with some non-supervisor folk in a different department. My boss & colleagues were great, along with other people I knew in different departments (I owe getting this job to a friend of a friend who worked in a different department from me). I also felt appreciated by them.

2. I got to dress up, which I almost never get to do. While some people were apparently gossiped about for wearing slutty, revealing attire at past parties, I wore what some colleagues dubbed my "Cinderella dress". It's my cool white, puffy evening gown that I found for $20 at a store in my hometown mall (I STILL have it & would wear it if the occasion arose again). It also has these lovely silver sparkly pieces & gathers on one side. The instant I saw it (during the time I was living in NC after graduating from college & didn't have a job), I knew I had to get it.

This dress was actually appropriate for the event since it was black tie (though I had no shortage of evening gowns since I'd gone to many sorority formals in college). These days, I almost never get to go to black tie events since I don't have the $ to pay admission for them. Believe me, if you invite me to one where I don't have to pay, you'll be getting in good with me.

3. I had a date. While I wasn't dating anyone then (I felt it wasn't a good idea to do that when I was moving in a very short time), a guy friend of mine from college volunteered to go with me. I had no romantic feelings for him but he was a shining example of what a great date should be: he danced with me, spoke to the other people at our table from various offices of the firm and even predicted my name would be called in a drawing. He says it at random & sure enough, I was the winner.

4. I won a prize in that drawing. Got a blanket I still have as an emergency blanket, a large bag with wheels (that I've used many times for travel) and a waterproof jacket I kept until the zipper head came off & I couldn't get it back on. Still miss that coat, actually.

5. The prizes in this drawing were also top notch. It wasn't employer branded freebies left over & covered with dust but very nice things like gift certificates to pricier retailers in the city & the like.

However, not everyone works someplace as good as this law firm. Boy, do they not! Some of the horror stories I read astound me.

My husband also gets invited to holidays parties by his union but you can't even bring your spouse. What the hell is that about? If you're so broke you can't afford to allow spouses at the party, maybe you should be rethinking whether to have a holiday party in the first place. At least his official job ones were during the workday so it's not like they scheduled it in the evening & say "Oh, by the way you can't take your spouse."

Do you know what not inviting a spouse says to me? That says "We don't give a shit about you or your family. Fuck them!" Second, it says "You as a spouse aren't valued or welcome here." Yet I bet you assholes would eat my cooking in a heartbeat if you had a potluck. You'd probably be like his former co-workers who kept asking me to make things for their parties.

Yep, I take it VERY personally because not only have you jerks taken away my husband's right to strike, have a horrible vision plan & created rules that keep total incompetents on the payroll come layoff time while my husband is put on the list but you also espouse an exclusionary & elitist viewpoint.

Do you honestly think someone wants to go to an evening party without their spouse if they're happily married? I don't care if you're offering that gold flaked sundae from Serendipity 3 for each person or strippers willing to give free lap dances, most people aren't going to go. My husband certainly wouldn't care about that stuff!

Let's also consider what this article says about conduct: we're supposed to have all the happy fuzzies and never address real issues. In fact, why not just avoid looking at supervisors (or as this article refers, "superiors" which even connotes an "I'm better than you" tone).

So if my company wanted to have a party, here are some considerations I would look at & things to avoid:

1. No alcohol! If people always do stupid stuff that they get made fun of for because they are drunk, then why are you serving it? This is like the airlines flying out of airports where bars are freely available then whining when drunk people want to board the plane.

How about not making the booze available, dumb asses? The law firm I worked at at least gave you 2 drink tickets to have alcohol while avoiding that problem. Maybe that would be an alternative if you have people who insist on alcohol being present.

A dry party or drink tickets. Something other than "Here's the booze. Live it up!"

2. Don't make it mandatory. For one, it seems office parties are designed to be one big Nazi fest. No, not a celebration of Adolf Hitler or racism but rather a guarded prison where we ignore the large, pink elephants in the room, punish individuality & have to watch the boss man grope our wives. And if the wives say anything? Oh, the worker will be punished for it b/c God forbid a woman doesn't consent to be treated like a blow up sex doll.

Second, you're punishing people who aren't social if you make it mandatory. My mom would rather chew off her arm than go to a work function. She HATES seeing these people outside the office & has no desire to deal with them. I should mention that she's not a particularly social person. Shouldn't those people have their rights respected?

Third, not everyone likes their job or co-workers. Maybe people are pissed about friends or productive people being laid off. Maybe you're not offering people advancement opportunities or giving them their due. My husband's sure not getting it from the higher ups & I don't blame him for a second not to want to tattoo the organization's name on his butt or go out of his way for people who don't treat him with respect.

Making the party mandatory is not a reward or a "present" for employees who are being abused or hate socializing. It's a punishment.

If you allegedly are throwing these parties to show appreciation & do something nice for your staff, how does making it mandatory accomplish that aim if one of these situations applies? If you're going to make it mandatory, you'd better be paying staff for that time or otherwise it's the same as making them work off the clock. That, boys and girls, is illegal!

3. Don't invite anyone you don't want to be embarrassed in front of or who will embarrass you. I don't understand why employers want to have a holiday party & invite their clients. Surely disgruntled workers will fill those clients in on the skinny of working there; the clients may even ask for all you know. It's bound to slip out if abuse is taking place.

I think you're better off throwing a party for the clients & a separate one for staff (maybe even at work). Let the clients decide if they want to bring staff members or even let them get a set allotment of invitations or make requests. They don't talk to the "rabble" and they can have someone they actually like dealing with being there.

It may even reward some great worker b/c if (s)he is being requested to be there by a lot of people & the higher-ups don't do it, it might set off something that says "Maybe we should be inviting this person or moving them up if these clients are saying such great things about him/her."

Of course, that presumes the employer has a fully functioning brain & isn't a crackhead. Why an employer would keep around an employee who is sure to embarrass him/her, I have no idea.

I don't care how nice a person the employee is, if they can't do the job get rid of them so one of the millions of talented, well groomed unemployed people can get a shot. Jobs aren't an entitlement or a right; you have to earn them.

4. Give the gift of honesty. One person's comments after the article sum this up nicely:

"What's the point, really? If you can't be yourself, what is the friggin point? Don't talk about vacation, that detracts from the bottom line, plus you might get canned if they know when you might be leaving. Don't talk about this, don't talk about that, be coy, blah, blah blah. You are never safe, so be yourself and live freely. What is this Saudi Arabia?"

I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment even though I worked at some great places. I had the space to be who I am & not get forced into some automaton image of myself. It's why I've decided to stop pursuing legal employment that's not offered to me directly or specifically since associates are required to do this stuff.

A truly great company would be one that says "Be yourself. We don't care what you do here & we won't hold it against you later." A "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" rule, if you will (barring things that would get you arrested like rape, DUI, sexual assault, etc.). Do that & I'll bet you get much more information than you ever would from an employee evaluation sheet.

The design of this is to use information to improve your business & make things better. You have to let go of delusions of grandeur or moral superiority to pull it off but if I saw it happen, that would make a place stand out in my mind. You'd also have to punish gossipers since that violates the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" rule.

5. Have the party at a neutral location. Rent a hall or a hotel ballroom if it will be outside of work hours. Absolutely no parties at some higher-up's home.

First off, do you Mr./Ms. Higher-Up want to clean vomit, clear trash or let drunks crash at your home? Even if you have staff, that's still costing you money & space.

Second, this screams pretension in the minds of much lower paid staff. You know the average CEO makes something like over 200 times more than the lowest paid worker in most places. Flaunting your money, especially in light of this recession is practically shouting at people to go tell you where to stick it!

Third, if you didn't let anyone else bring a spouse, why should yours get to be there if (s)he does not work at the company or own a piece of it? Inheriting the CEOs share at death doesn't count. Another method of screaming entitlement & sure to cause problems. Why should your kids be there if employees can't bring their kids? Fairness, people. Not to mention they'd probably hate being at an office party or having to play host in their own home for total strangers.

Finally, that's not neutral territory and most people are not magnanimous saints. I could see some scumbag intimdate women into sexual harassment situations by using the specter of continued employment, among many things not to do. Public venues in neutral territory will keep people honest & on their best behavior.

6. Welcome spouses & significant others. If you're going to have dancing, why in the Hell would you institute a "no dates" rule? Are you trying to play the office pimp? Do you want to create problems with workplace romances? As I understand it, most places don't want you finding dates in the workplace or getting involved with people you have to work with everyday. Why would you counteract this by not letting anyone bring their spouse or significant other to the Christmas party?

That whole policy with my husband's union has been a serious sticking point to me & it totally colors my estimation/judgment of them. You'd better believe your employees' spouses will feel the same way & will likely be happy if your headquarters perish in a blazing inferno. Consider if you'd like to have more enemies & detractors.

If you must have a party, do it at the office during the workday (because everyone likes paid goof off time on occasion) or use that money for bonuses, dues refunds, or whatever your organization does that could truly give a gift to the members.

7. Include people who celebrate other holidays/events. That should go without saying. I've been saying "Christmas" but that's largely because of how the parties are typically referred to in the US & especially in the South or anyplace where the primary religion is Christianity. I think other people's traditions, foods, etc. ought to be included to represent them as well & make them feel welcome. Plus, you give the people who celebrate something different an opportunity to educate & answer questions. One great thing about living in NYC is the different cultures and traditions you find out about. I've certainly learned more about different events & traditions living in NYC and even the Northeast than I knew about in NC.

Let's also respect their rights not to pretend to celebrate something they don't believe in or support. I'd love to see that extended to atheists & others in "unpopular" religions as well.

Parties are supposed to be "fun" not witch hunts, contrived niceties or Nazi fests. If you've got the money to throw a witch hunt/Nazi fest, maybe you should be sending that money to the federal government or even the local government so they can use it to balance the budget.

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