Update: I miss counted. Make that 6 easy steps.
Time was when the company Christmas party was upper management’s way of thanking and half-apologizing to employees for the late nights, weekends, skipping lunches, brown-nosing clients and being berated in the hallway. They occurred at the end of the day in the conference room. There was a healthy supply of booze (usually), food (usually decent) and, if it was a good year, a bonus check (usually disappointing). There were the extracurricular activities too—like hooking up with the hot junior account executive or the boss’ wife groping you in the hallway. Afterwards, you half-crocked drove home where unhappy spouses awaited to check shirt collars for lipstick stains. It is the quintessential, Mad Men-esque office Christmas party cliché.
Then the Christmas party got more sophisticated and, well, better. It moved to restaurants, bars and clubs, or maybe even to the boss’ opulent, envy-inducing house. There was a healthy supply of booze (usually limitless), catered food (usually above par) and, if it was a good year, a bonus check (usually mostly satisfying). Spouses and significant every others were invited because the party occurred after work hours and on the weekend. Largely gone were the extracurricular activities—except now the boss’ wife was groping you in her kitchen and there was a spatula involved. During the party, you and some of the coworkers you actually liked made impromptu plans to spend your bonus at the nearest bar. You left half-crockeed with your significant every other, got home, got naked and did the horizontal Watusi.
Then, something happened to Christmas party—excuse me, holiday party. It degenerated into a PC-addled during-work-hours, speech-filled snoozefest occurring at a local and little-used venue or hall. Booze? Sneak in your own, or forget it. And that’s only mildly worse than the company that gives you a two-ticket maximum for drinks at the bar. (Thanks for the mild buzz there, boss.) Catered food? Sure! If you like lemon chicken grilled to within an inch of its life served with cold herb bow tie pasta, creamy iceberg lettuce billed as Caesar salad and a roll with the consistency of a baseball that’s been left out in the rain all winter, then you’re in luck. Bonus check? Wake up, that went to the dry lemon chicken you’re trying to wash down lukewarm Coke. Extracurricular activities? Oh, those are still around. Just not how you think. Now you’ve been assigned a seat at a table with people from analytics, people you don’t even say to in the hallway because you don’t know their names, nor do you care to. But there you sit, forced to make conversation.
“So what do you do?”
“Well, I-I-I measure customer analytics and data from segmented markets and compare to our digital assets to determine our future investment structure…
“Hmm, I see. So when you get home tonight are you going to put the barrel in your mouth and paint the walls red? Because I would.”
You don’t say that really because that would be rude, but you’re thinking it. So you try biting into the roll and hope you break a tooth so you have some excuse, any excuse to get up and get the fuck away from the table. Or better yet, leave this boozeless, mirthless, life-sucking party before the team-building exercises (“time for the drum circle!”) and more camaraderie begin.
Pardon me, but when the fuck did this become the office Christmas party? Who thinks this is fun? Who looks forward to that? It’s not a party; it’s an off-campus meeting. Honestly, I think most of us would rather be working. I know I would.
Yet this is the becoming the popular template—the office Christmas party as team building exercise. And this shit needs to stop.
Now, as the saying goes in business, don’t come to me with your problems, come to me with your solutions. An excellent idea. I couldn’t agree more! So I’m done addressing you, Dear 2.5 Readers. Allow me shift my attention and direct this to you, Mr. and Mrs. Bossy Upper Management Person. I present six easy steps you can do to turn your office Christmas from something your employees would rather gouge their eyes out with a rusty spoon than attend, into a party that will have them exchanging awkward glances at each other in the hallway on Monday morning.
1. Do not let coworkers from analytics, research, accounting, human resources or public affairs plan the party. These departments contain a large population of goodytwoshoes, people with deep, unrequited desires for social acceptance and a long history of volunteering for party committees. And they suck at it. They do dumb things like planning the party during the day instead of after work at night. They are part of the problem. Not any more. This is where you get to be the boss. Fire from the Christmas party committee. In fact, fire them from all office party committees. Instead, find the party people in your office. You know who they are. They talk about wine, beer, tequila, good restaurants and great hot spots on Monday morning. Draft them. Make them plan the festivities. They don’t want to attend anything that would bore them to the point of suicide so they’ll come up with something that rocks.
2. Bring back the booze. Don’t want to serve it at the office? Fine. Find a venue that does or one that will let you serve it. No tickets, either. And no making employees pay for liquor. Just account for it in the budget. (More on that in Step 6.) Oh, and arrange to have taxis or have the managers be designated drivers if you’re that worried about being sued when an employee ends up in the clink.
3. We’re a society obsessed with food. There’s an entire TV network dedicated to food, complete with cooking shows, cooking competitions and chirpy, annoying chef hosts with fried-egg titties (yeah, Rachel Ray, I mean you.) “Top Chef”, “Chopped”, “Iron Chef America” are some of the most popular shows on TV. Food trucks are wildly popular. People love food! For the love of Julia Child, accept nothing less than a really great caterer.
4. Want to raise everyone’s spirits? Want to boost morale and increase team spirit? Give employees their bonus checks before Christmas when they need it most, and when they’ll be most appreciative. Not when it’s fucking convenient for the accounting dorks because the fiscal year ends in February.
5. Extracurricular activities? Let those happen. If the Mad-Men era infidelities in the first paragraph happen, well, they happen. (Hint: Keep your wife/husband away from the bar.) Of course, can the team-building exercise shit—like the contrived and forced cross-department social interactions. People will gravitate to the people they like—probably the people they work with the most. There’s nothing wrong with that, and nothing you can do about it and nothing you should do about it. A designer just probably won’t hit it off with an accountant, unless she’s hotter the Mila Kunis. So stop trying. Want extracurricular activities? Insist the party be held some place fun, like an arcade with pool tables. Or a mini-car race track. Or in a bowling alley. Or at an ice skating rink. Skating while intoxicated? Now you’re getting the idea, chief. But Jesus, Mary and Joseph, no trust falls. No group charades. And, I don’t care how cool you think it is, absolutely no fucking drum circles ever.
6. Finally, and most important of all, don’t be a cheap ass. Give your committee a healthy budget. People mutter “bullshit” under their breaths when the boss gives a speech where he thanks every one for their hard work, dedication, teamwork, late nights, lunch-time meetings, commitment and for coming in with a 102-degree fever. Shut up and put up. This is the one time you can show you’re a grateful boss/company by not being a cheap ass. So do it. Supply a bountiful budget to the committee!
That’s it. That’s all there is to resurrecting your office Christmas party. Six steps so easy even the mailroom clerk couldn’t fuck them up.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!